ANNAPOLIS – Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan pledged Thursday that if he is elected governor he will add 1,000 officers to local police forces.
Unveiling the first part of a promised statewide crime-fighting policy, Duncan said that he would like the state to provide $12.5 million to match funds put up by local jurisdictions to hire new officers. At least half of these hires would be in Duncan’s first year as governor.
“Far too many Marylanders live with fear each and every day and it is time we changed this and took our streets back for the hard-working people of this great state,” Duncan said in a written statement.
Duncan said the rest of what he called a comprehensive plan to fight crime and drug abuse will be announced next week. He said it would increase drug treatment opportunities, look to provide young people with a “constructive alternative to a life of violence” and do a better job of helping prisoners make the transition back into society.
But he called the plan to increase police presence throughout Maryland the “centerpiece” of his effort.
Duncan said that increased gang activity, homicides and auto thefts prompted him to advocate an increase in the number of police on the streets.
In 2004, Maryland had the third-worst violent crime rate in the nation, behind Florida and South Carolina.
The increase in the police presence would only be a temporary fix.
“The long-term solution is to improve the education all across the state,” Duncan said.
Crime is one issue with which Duncan may seek to differentiate himself from his chief opponent in the Democratic primary, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley.
O’Malley came to office pledging to reduce Baltimore’s homicide rate, but after some initial success has not been able to bring it down to the level he promised.
“There is a very serious crime problem in Baltimore,” Duncan said.
O’Malley, in Annapolis Thursday to promote anti-assault weapon legislation, called Duncan’s hiring initiative an “interesting idea,” but stressed that more efficient management of police forces, funding and information would also be necessary.
“It’s not only about sworn strength,” he said. “We should be making better use of Homeland Security dollars in the (Washington) D.C. area.”
For his part, O’Malley threw his support behind an assault weapons ban sponsored by Delegate Neil F. Quinter, D-Howard.
“This is about removing high-powered assault weapons from the hands of people that would use them against other people,” O’Malley said.
Quinter introduced bans in each of the last three years, but none have made it out of the House of Delegates. Last year’s version would have outlawed 45 different types of weapons, including various sniper rifles, shotguns and assault rifles.
A federal ban of 19 types of assault weapons expired in 2004.
“We have enough rules and regulations concerning guns, we don’t need anymore,” said House minority leader George C. Edwards, R – Western Maryland.
Asked if the ban has a chance of passing this year, he said “In this state, with this legislature, who knows?”
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has not taken a position on the new proposal, but opposed all past attempts to pass similar bills.
“The governor respects the second amendment,” said Henry P. Fawell, Ehrlich’s spokesman. “He is waiting for evidence that a particular ban reduces crime.”
Proponents of Quinter’s bill argued that assault weapons have no place in the hands of normal citizens. “Assault weapons have one purpose and one purpose only – to kill human beings and end human life,” said O’Malley’s running mate, Delegate Anthony G. Brown, D-Prince George’s. “Gov. Ehrlich is AWOL on this issue.”