Pros­e­cu­tors, po­lice launch new gun ef­fort

Bal­ti­more team’s mis­sion: tar­get spe­cific ‘trig­ger pullers’

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Rec­tor and Justin Fen­ton

Bal­ti­more’s two top law en­force­ment of­fi­cials are as­sem­bling a team of “elite” pros­e­cu­tors and po­lice de­tec­tives to se­cure con­vic­tions against vi­o­lent gun of­fend­ers, they said Wed­nes­day.

What is be­ing called the Gun Vi­o­lence En­force­ment Di­vi­sion, to be housed within the of­fice of Bal­ti­more State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn J. Mosby, could in­volve as many as 13 pros­e­cu­tors.

Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis said the Po­lice Depart­ment will con­trib­ute at least one sergeant and four de­tec­tives, all of whom have spe­cial­ized train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence with gun vi­o­lence.

Au­thor­i­ties have cre­ated sim­i­lar part­ner­ships in the past, but Mosby said the new team will have the added ben­e­fit of in­tel­li­gence gath­ered in the last year — in­clud­ing a list of 602 iden­ti­fied “trig­ger pullers” — to tar­get spe­cific in­di­vid­u­als. Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis and State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn J. Mosby an­nounce the cre­ation of the Gun Vi­o­lence En­force­ment Di­vi­sion.

It will be or­ga­nized to mir­ror the EX­ILE pro­gram used by fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors, of­fi­cials said.

That pro­gram aims to at­tach long prison sen­tences to gun crimes.

Mosby said the unit would have one re­spon­si­bil­ity: “to en­sure the ag­gre­ga­tion of in­tel­li­gence that’s ex­tracted from my crim­i­nal strate­gies unit and the Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment is used to not only ap­pre­hend and charge, but to con­vict those who are ad­min­is­ter­ing gun vi­o­lence in the city.”

Davis said po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors al­ready know who is re­spon­si­ble for gun vi­o­lence in Bal­ti­more. The new team, he said, will “en­sure that ev­ery as­pect of that case is the high­est, high­est qual­ity, so when it gets into a court­room, we can have a suc­cess­ful res­o­lu­tion.

“And when I say ‘ we’ can have a suc­cess­ful res­o­lu­tion, I mean the com­mu­nity, be­cause the com­mu­nity is tired of vi­o­lent re­peat of­fend­ers get­ting out again and again and again, and we re­al­ize we have a col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity to do some­thing new, some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

The unit is the lat­est ini­tia­tive to be in­tro­duced in the last sev­eral years un­der mul­ti­ple state’s at­tor­neys and po­lice com­mis­sion­ers, and it re­mains to be seen just how dif­fer­ent it will be from past col­lab­o­ra­tions.

The state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice has been grap­pling for decades with how to tar­get the worst of­fend­ers and drive down gun crime.

Be­fore 1997, non­fa­tal shoot­ings and gun charges were han­dled by gen­eral felony pros­e­cu­tors who didn’t get the cases un­til shortly be­fore trial.

Then-State’s At­tor­ney Pa­tri­cia Jes­samy se­cured fed­eral grant fund­ing to cre­ate a unit to fo­cus on guns: the Firearms In­ves­ti­ga­tion Vi­o­lence En­force­ment — or F.I.V.E. — unit.

State grant funds al­lowed the unit to grow in size and scope, from a hand­ful of at­tor­neys to 15 pros­e­cu­tors who han­dled hun­dreds of cases, in­clud­ing all non­fa­tal shoot­ing and felony gun cases.

Matthew Fral­ing led the F.I.V.E. unit from 2009 to 2011.

“It took on a lot more than it had ini­tially con­cep­tu­al­ized,” said Fral­ing, now a de­fense at­tor­ney.

The unit kept meticulous sta­tis­tics on its per­for­mance, which didn’t al­ways re­flect well on its ef­forts, Fral­ing said. With its ex­pan­sion, the unit was tak­ing on all gun cases in­stead of be­ing more selec­tive.

“Our num­bers were not great with re­gard to con­vic­tions, be­cause of the na­ture of the cases we were deal­ing with,” Fral­ing said. “It is very dif­fi­cult to get a con­vic­tion when the vic­tim iden­ti­fies a guy and then at trial says, ‘That’s not the guy that shot me,’ Bal­ti­more State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn J. Mosby, ap­pear­ing with Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis, right, says the new anti-gun crime ef­fort “is just an­other step to erad­i­cate the nor­mal­iza­tion of vi­o­lence that far too many of us have be­come all too ac­cus­tomed to.” which is quin­tes­sen­tial Bal­ti­more.”

State’s At­tor­ney Gregg Bernstein, Mosby’s pre­de­ces­sor, dis­banded the F.I.V.E. unit in fa­vor of a new Ma­jor In­ves­ti­ga­tions Unit that took on top-pri­or­ity de­fen­dants re­gard­less of whether they had been caught with a gun or not.

The unit fo­cused on build­ing large cases, but its pros­e­cu­tors would also han­dle on a day-to-day ba­sis seem­ingly mi­nor cases against re­peat of­fend­ers.

That meant other shoot­ing and gun cases went back to the busy gen­eral felony unit, which han­dles a wide va­ri­ety of se­ri­ous cases that are not homi­cides or sex crimes.

Mosby said the new team will be dif­fer­ent from both the F.I.V.E. unit and the Ma­jor In­ves­ti­ga­tions Unit, which still ex­ists, be­cause it will fo­cus on spe­cific gun of­fend­ers who have al­ready been iden­ti­fied as top driv­ers of vi­o­lence in the city.

There have been more than 650 shoot­ings in Bal­ti­more this year, of­fi­cials said Wed­nes­day, in­clud­ing 177 of the city’s 215 homi­cides. Guns are also used reg­u­larly in other vi­o­lent crimes, such as rob­beries.

Mosby said the “dis­mal” clo­sure rate for non­fa­tal shoot­ings, which cur­rently stands at 22 per­cent, and the re­cent shoot­ings of young chil­dren, teenagers and el­derly res­i­dents mo­ti­vated her to launch the new team. She said the team will need help. “We need the com­mu­nity to en­sure that our con­tin­ual col­lab­o­ra­tion and the im­pact of this unit is suc­cess­ful,” she said.

“The com­mu­nity plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in chang­ing the tra­jec­tory of our city, and this is just an­other step to erad­i­cate the nor­mal­iza­tion of vi­o­lence that far too many of us have be­come all too ac­cus­tomed to.”

“We have a col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity to do ... some­thing dif­fer­ent.” Kevin Davis, po­lice com­mis­sioner

Fral­ing said the ef­fort will need strong at­tor­neys and fo­cus to be suc­cess­ful.

“So many qual­ity in­di­vid­u­als have left the of­fice,” he said. “It doesn’t mean there are not still qual­ity peo­ple there, but if she’s go­ing to go for­ward with that ini­tia­tive and wants it to be suc­cess­ful, she’s got to staff it with qual­ity peo­ple.”

Mosby said she is still in the process of se­lect­ing pros­e­cu­tors, but has “the most tal­ented pros­e­cu­tors in the coun­try” work­ing for her.

“We want the right per­son,” she said. “We’re try­ing to vet some of our se­nior pros­e­cu­tors within the of­fice to run the unit, and then we’re go­ing to vet some of our most tal­ented junior at­tor­neys as well.”

Davis said he has al­ready iden­ti­fied the mem­bers of the Po­lice Depart­ment who will join the team, but was “just not pre­pared” to name them.

Mosby and Davis de­clined to give a date for when the team will be fully op­er­a­tional.



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