Ex-Cops Say Harsher Sentences Won’t Stem Murder Epidemic

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As the Baltimore City Council prepares to debate a proposal for one year mandatory sentences for firearm possession, some say the move could do more harm than good

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Story Transcript

Stephen Janis: The message in City Hall was unambiguous. Carrying a gun in Baltimore will be met with short and swift punishment.

Catherine Pugh: Gun offenders in Baltimore City know, or at least they think, they will not face a significant amount of jail time for their offense, and so we believe that it’s time for us to put some stronger measures in place, especially has it relates to the position of illegal guns, and to limit judicial discretion in suspending sentences for those who illegally possess guns in Baltimore City.

Stephen Janis: On the agenda Monday, a new gun law that would include a mandatory minimum of a gun near a school, church or public building. The law was in response to numbers that showed 600 recent gun arrests resulting in suspects receiving little or no jail time.

Catherine Pugh: In 2016, over 60% of the total years imposed for gun crimes in Baltimore City was suspended by the judiciary.

Stephen Janis: A fact Baltimore Police Commissioner Keven Davis called intolerable amid another record year of violence.

Kevin Davis: It’s a misdemeanor offense that more times than not results in less jail time than the jail time that a person gets for having 10 locks of crack cocaine in his front pocket.

Stephen Janis: There’s skeptics who say laws like these are not only misguided, but don’t work. Former Baltimore police lieutenant Michael Wood says the data is misleading and the law will fail.

Michael Wood: As long as you continue to use violence and punishment as your answers, you’re not going to get anywhere because we know throughout all of the literature and throughout all practical examples and pretty much looking at every single other developed nation in this entire world that punishment is not a deterrent, it does not solve crimes. In fact, violence and punishment sows the seeds to create recidivism, to make sure that crimes do happen again. What the mayor is proposing when you’re talking about putting mandatory minimums or increasing any penalty is a guarantee to make the system worse.

Stephen Janis: Opinions shared by activists as well. Erricka Bridgeford, who was part of a group calling for a 72-hour ceasefire in August, says the law will take the city back to inflexible approaches to punishment which the community does not want, and she says it ignores the entrenched poverty which fuels the mayhem.

Erica Bridgeford: Where does compassion come in to that? Where does taking responsibility for the systems that create crime come in, and so are we this mad? I will be putting money and time into re-looking at what laws we make, what bills go in, about what is criminal and what lands people in jail.

Stephen Janis: At City Hall, the mayor remained firm that only swift, ensuring incarceration will work. The question remains, is she right or simply repeating mistakes of the past?