City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein met with 1st District Councilman Jim Kraft and a dozen neighbors to give an overview of the City State’s Attorney’s Office. The meeting, on Feb. 1 at the Admiral Fell Inn, was a follow-up to the November meeting at Max’s on Broadway, which followed a spate of muggings and robberies in the Fell’s Point area.
The meeting’s handful of attendees, people who live in or work in the southeast, were eager to hear what Bernstein had to say. Afterward they vented about quality of life crimes, particularly in Fell’s Point and Little Italy.
Bernstein, who defeated Patricia Jessamy to become State’s Attorney in 2011, started off the meeting by highlighting some of the changes he has implemented in his office.
He said that upon his arrival the relationship between the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Baltimore City Police was “not as good as it could have been.”
“The synergy that now exists is something that the city has not seen for some time. Police are much more cooperative in case-building,” Bernstein said.“Our conviction rate for the first six months of 2012 was close to 70 percent.”
Bernstein next discussed his community prosecution model, which divides the city into three zones with zone-specific persecutors. Bernstein said zone prosecutors bring greater knowledge and familiarity to cases because they work in one geographic area. The Southeastern police district is part of zone one.
Attendees asked Bernstein what citizens could do to assist his office in getting more convictions.
“Police can’t make arrests if people don’t report crimes. That’s step one. Police departments also make deployment decisions based on [reported crime] data,” Bernstein said.
“Witnesses and victims also need to be willing to come to court and provide victim impact statements. These are given to judges and can have an impact on sentencing,” he added
Bernstein then opened the meeting for residents to discuss their crime-related concerns.
Joy Giordano, executive director of Fell’s Point’s Main Street program, said vagrants and panhandlers were an ongoing challenge, particularly in the Fell’s Point square and near Brown’s Wharf.
“It’s a problem, particularly during the Farmers’ Market,” Giordano said.
“If they’re not aggressive during the daytime, you can’t arrest them,” Councilman Kraft explained.
“But is it acceptable for a person to sleep on a bench for 24 or 48 hours?” Giordano asked.
One meeting attendee said he’d like to chastise people who give panhandlers money.
“I’d say, ‘Don’t you dare give that panhandler money. Take him home to your neighborhood.’”
Bernstein said that he would bring up the matter of vagrants and panhandlers with Major Davis of the Southeastern District.
Kraft did as well. He added that he and Bernstein would try to arrange a public meeting with the zone one prosecutor, so southeast residents could get a better feel for how crimes in their area are being prosecuted.
Bernstein then told the group that his office and staff of 200 would be moving out of the court house early in 2013.
“We will be located in the SunTrust Bank building at 120 E. Baltimore St. on contiguous floors, not so spread out. It will be a huge change in how the State’s Attorney’s Office operates.”
by Danielle Sweeney