Gov. Wes Moore unveiled a package of public safety bills on Tuesday that would separately establish a gun violence prevention center, recruit and retain police officers and expedite funds to crime victims’ families.

The Democrat delivered his announcement in the Maryland State House and urged the cabinet members, prosecutors, law enforcement and lawmakers — some of whom have been at the center of debate over the state’s troubled youth legal system — to “lead together” to keep Marylanders safe.

“When it comes to public safety, we aren’t going to point fingers, we aren’t going to just simply place blame,” Moore said.

The governor’s directive came one day ahead of a legislative session where lawmakers intend to work on the state’s juvenile justice system, which has come under scrutiny after several months of public meetings and news cycles focused on youth crime and, most notably, the spike in auto thefts.

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But the governor’s proposals do not directly address juvenile crime or demand accountability for youths who have committed them. Nor do they hold accountable the government agencies, including law enforcement, responsible for keeping the public safe.

He did address the elephant in the room. He said his administration will be involved in “robust discussions” around juvenile justice and demanded that any bill sent to his desk involving juvenile justice must include accountability.

“I believe in rehabilitation, but I will not tolerate lawlessness,” he said.

“When a kid does something wrong, they need to be held accountable, but so do the adults responsible for preventing and responding to those situations.”

Moore said state lawmakers should seriously consider strengthening penalties for crimes committed by youths with illegal guns and extending probation for gun violence offenses to give youths more time to engage with rehabilitative services.

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The bills

In partnership with state’s attorneys from two of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions, Moore proposed the Victims Compensation Reform Act “to ensure that victims of crime can count on support when they need it most,” he said. The bill will expedites grants for funeral expenses or relocation costs.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates and Aisha Braveboy, State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County, offered this idea and others weeks ahead of the legislative session.

“To have that be one of the things that the governor and his team break out is huge,” Bates said.

The Growing Apprenticeships in Public Safety Act, or the GAPS Act, will build “stronger pipelines” to law enforcement careers, Moore said.

Denise Reid, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, speaks to Gov. Wes Moore during a press conference at the State House in Annapolis on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. Moore announced proposals to improve public safety.
Denise Reid, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, speaks to Gov. Wes Moore during a press conference at the State House in Annapolis on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. Moore announced proposals to improve public safety. (Pamela Wood)

“This bill will help us get more boots on the ground and help us to keep the boots that we already have,” Moore said.

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To rousing round of applause and yelps from gun violence prevention advocates and others in the room, Moore announced a bill that would create a center to study and prevent gun violence under the Maryland Department of Health.

The Center for Firearm Prevention and Intervention will look at gun violence as a public safety and public health crisis. Moore said the idea came after President Joe Biden’s administration set up the Safe States Initiative, urging states and cities to take action against gun violence.

Maryland is the first state in the nation to propose a statewide center, said Rob Wilcox, deputy director of the White House Office for Gun Violence Prevention.

“It’s a critical step to focus investments and drive the strategies that we know will save lives,” Wilcox said.

Republican response

Not everyone in the room felt the currents were flowing in exactly the right direction. State Sen. Justin Ready said the governor’s bill proposals didn’t go far enough to address juvenile justice issues and hold youths accountable.

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“It’s great to hear the word accountability used by a Democrat in Annapolis,” the Carroll County Republican said. “But I was disappointed that the legislative package really doesn’t include any of that accountability.”

Proposals from Democrats addressing the root causes of violence are not new, Ready said. Republicans in Annapolis have called for stricter penalties for youths who commit violent crimes, and have demanded answers from the juvenile services agency.

Ready, who serves as the Senate minority whip, said he’s encouraged that Moore will be involved in conversations on juvenile justice legislation but “I’d love for him to lead the conversation and say we’re going to take action.”

Support for Schiraldi

Moore also doubled down on his confidence in Juvenile Services Secretary Vincent Schiraldi, calling him “the right person for this moment” before an audience that included some of the juvenile services agency’s most ardent detractors.

“He recognizes that if children break the law and we put them into a system that does not give them the resources that they need for a better path, then we are doing it wrong,” Moore said.

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During the secretary’s moment at the podium, Schiraldi explained his agency’s Thrive Academy gun violence reduction program and touted its early success. The nascent program matches at-risk youth with mentors, life plans and a range of support services to help them find a path out of violence. None of the 33 youths at high risk for perpetrating gun violence have reoffended in the program’s first four months, he said.

Maryland Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Vincent Schiraldi, center, speaks with Baltimore State's Attorney Ivan Bates, left, and Prince George's County State's Attorney Aisha Braveboy at the State House in Annapolis on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. They spoke after Gov. Wes Moore held a press conference to announce public safety proposals.
Maryland Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Vincent Schiraldi, center, speaks with Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, left, and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy at the State House in Annapolis on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. They spoke after Gov. Wes Moore held a press conference to announce public safety proposals. (Pamela Wood)

“We must pursue two notions simultaneously: holding young people accountable for wrongdoing while helping them get back on track,” he said.

Schiraldi said the support from Moore and the applause from those in the room felt “great,” but tides actually began to turn in his favor a few weeks before the Tuesday event.

In recent months, Schiraldi’s agency has been the target and source of frustration for law enforcement and prosecutors as they’ve struggled alongside juvenile services to curb a spike in youths stealing cars and an increase in certain crimes. Lawmakers have implored agencies to better work together rather than assign blame.

After tensions boiled over between Schiraldi and Bates’ juvenile deputy division chief, Cate Rosenblatt, at a South Baltimore town hall on public safety, the agencies have had a handful of meetings, Schiraldi said.He and Bates have exchanged eight emails and there’s more: “We’re having lunch Friday,” Schiraldi said.

Brenda Wintrode covers state government, agencies and politics. Before joining The Baltimore Banner, Wintrode wrote an award winning series of long form investigations for Wisconsin Watch. 

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