When springtime trends showed that 2011 homicides in Maryland would rise by 7 percent, the governor's office set in motion an intensified effort to arrest violent offenders wanted on warrants in areas where most of the state's violent crime occurs: Baltimore City and Prince George's and Baltimore counties.
Local and state agencies worked in three phases from the summer through year's end, with more officers and longer hours paid for with $500,000 in federal grants. When it was over, 2,200 people had been arrested.
The Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention, which allocated the grants, points out that a preliminary count shows Maryland ended the year with 401 homicides — 25 fewer than 2010, said Bill Toohey, spokesman for the agency. He said that homicide figure could change if new information is produced on suspicious deaths in 2011.
The agency does not argue that a cause-and-effect link can be made between the arrests and the drop in homicides, and no list has been compiled showing how long these offenders were in jail after their arrests. But Kristen Mahoney, the agency's executive director, said that arresting violent offenders helps reduce violent crime and that she wants to use the approach again.
"If you remove 2,100 violent offenders off the street in a seven-month period, you're going to have a pretty big sea change" in violent crime, Mahoney said.
In Baltimore County alone, the more intense effort between Nov. 28 and Dec. 23 netted 382 arrests, more than three times as many as would have been made in that period by the usual complement of officers devoted to arresting people on warrants, Police Chief James W. Johnson said in a prepared statement.
Mahoney said the effort was launched in May, soon after Gov. Martin O'Malley told her that he noticed the state was on pace for about 30 more homicides than in 2010. He wanted to know what could be done.
The state decided to focus on Baltimore City and Prince George's and Baltimore counties. The three jurisdictions together accounted for 63 percent of Maryland's violent crime in 2010, Toohey said.
Mahoney said her office first contacted officials in Baltimore City about an effort in cooperation with the warrant apprehension task force, a joint city and county unit. The task forces are made up of officers from the local jurisdictions, along with the Maryland State Police, Department of Juvenile Services and Division of Parole and Probation.
Officers from the agencies share information to track suspects. Most were found in the three jurisdictions, but at least one arrest was made on the Eastern Shore. A man tracked down in Michigan with the help of federal marshals had been wanted on warrants from Baltimore County for charges of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy, from Baltimore City for assault charges, and by the State Police for escape charges.
A 65-year-old man who was paroled for first-degree murder in 1993 was arrested on Baltimore's east side after he was charged with attempted murder.
Mahoney said this three-phase campaign started with a bigger pool of information on outstanding warrants that had been provided for the first time by the courts. In previous years, investigators worked with individual county court warrant lists, she said. While the effort focused chiefly on violent offenders, they were not the only arrests that were made.
A 42-year-old Baltimore City man, for example, was arrested in a home on Cathedral Street; police said he failed to appear for an arraignment on drug charges, and court records show he has no history of violent crime. While they were arresting the man, police said, they found nine pounds of marijuana in the house valued at $25,000 to $35,000.
The city effort went from early June through mid-July and made 1,000 arrests, Mahoney said. In August and September, an additional 818 people were arrested on Prince George's warrants.
She said the effort was unprecedented but won't be the last.
Said Mahoney: "I've already said to the office, 'When is the next one?' "