- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

BALTIMORE — Mayor Martin O’Malley’s reluctance to audit the city’s crime statistics has made the mayor’s disputed police data and questionable crime-fighting resume top issues in his quest to win the Democratic nomination for governor.

Mr. O’Malley says he doesn’t trust an audit sponsored by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election, and that political rivals would not trust his choice of auditors.

The mayor has built his gubernatorial campaign upon assertions that since becoming mayor in 1999 he has reduced violent crime by 40 percent — the largest decline in the country. The 40 percent decrease is based on an audit Mr. O’Malley commissioned back then that placed violent-crime totals 16 percent higher than reported. Without the higher numbers, violent crime would have decreased by roughly 23 percent, which would have made the drop the sixth largest in the country.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who also is seeking the Democratic nomination, is among those questioning the numbers.

The issue emerged on the campaign trail yesterday when Mr. Duncan visited Baltimore to tout his crime-fighting strategy for Maryland.

“Mr. O’Malley is stonewalling,” said Mr. Duncan, whose county had 19 killings last year. “We need to know what the real numbers are so that when we say, ‘Here is how we are going to fight crime,’ we know we are fighting the real crime.”

Mr. Ehrlich continues to call for an audit, after the city blocked his first attempt, by saying reports that the Baltimore City Police Department suppressed crime totals has made the issue even more pressing.

“To the extent any jurisdiction is phonying-up or not reporting crimes or ordering police to do certain things, we’ve got a problem,” the governor said.

O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillary said the numbers are accurate and that calls for an audit are “politically motivated.”

However, Democrats on the City Council and representing Baltimore in the General Assembly are among those who suspect police have under reported crime incidents.

Much of the speculation follows reports by WBAL-TV (Channel 11) in Baltimore that some rape and assault victims say their attacks were not recorded by police. The station also reported that the Maryland state medical examiner last year counted six more homicides in Baltimore than the 253 police recorded.

“The audit needs to be done,” said Delegate Marshall T. Goodwin, a Baltimore Democrat and 25-year veteran of the Baltimore Sheriff’s Office. “I don’t think it is a political issue.”

Even if last year’s homicide total is less than the 305 recorded in 1999, critics say the count has not dropped to 175 a year as Mr. O’Malley promised when running for mayor. They also say a murder every 36 hours is nothing to brag about.

“East and West Baltimore look like a war zone,” said city resident Jim Brown, 60, a retired Bethlehem Steel worker. “Where has [crime] come down 40 percent — at the police station? … Has crime come down within the police department?”

The police department has a history of problems under Mr. O’Malley’s leadership, including four commissioners in six years.

Residents say the mayor’s zero-tolerance crime strategy has resulted in police harassment, including officers stopping and frisking people on the street. And three members of a special unit in the department recently were indicted in the rape of a 22-year-old woman in custody at police headquarters in December. Charges of the unit’s involvement in drugs, theft and evidence planting also are under investigation by the FBI and city prosecutors.

In January, about 2,000 residents booed Mr. O’Malley at a public forum on police issues.

Mr. Duncan was joined yesterday by Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, a Democrat who is often at odds with Mr. O’Malley over crime and is a potential running mate for Mr. Duncan.

Mr. O’Malley’s supporters on the City Council this week berated Mrs. Jessamy for not auditing her office’s performance.

She characterized the attack as an attempt to divert attention from the crime statistics.

“We need to get to the bottom of what is happening [with Baltimore crime], and we need to ask some valid questions,” Mrs. Jessamy said. “We need to demand that we get the answers we need.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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