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O'Malley Ads Try to Tie Ehrlich to Baltimore's Crime Problems

Posted 10/11/2006

You can't be anywhere near a TV set right now without hearing Maryland's two gubernatorial candidates blasting each other--sometimes over the issues--in an increasingly angry way. Both candidates are doing it. However, hizzoner the mayor's latest anti-crime blast aimed at hizzoner the governor has one serious problem. The key dig it takes at Gov. Robert Ehrlich just isn't true.

It started with an Ehrlich ad that took square aim at Mayor Martin O'Malley for failing to make Baltimore City a safer place. Ehrlich even cited the homicide numbers in CP's Murder Ink column from last year to show that O'Malley had not reduced crime as much as he vowed to during his 1999 campaign. (During the campaign, the Big O promised to reduce the number of homicides in the city to 175 by two years after he was elected. Although the homicide rate has dropped below 300, it has never gotten below 250.)

O'Malley's latest anti-crime ad, as press time at least, tried to tie Ehrlich to Baltimore's crime problem. The voice in the ad proclaims that Ehrlich's claims that O'Malley has been fudging the crime statistics just isn't true because the Baltimore Police Department is "a police department whose monthly crime statistics are validated by Ehrlich's own State Police and published by the FBI."

They certainly sound like fighting words. The problem is that the claim isn't accurate.

Every year, the Maryland State Police agency acts as the clearinghouse for 150 police departments in the state; it submits their crime numbers to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) unit. UCR is the national keeper of crime statistics, tracking numbers and trends throughout the U.S.

The agency collects the numbers monthly, State Police spokesman Greg Shipley says. And every month, he says, "Maryland State Police relies on the reporting police department to insure that the crime numbers submitted are complete and the crime numbers accurately represent the offenses in that category in that jurisdiction." All the State Police does each month is check that the arithmetic on the numbers is valid.

When the State Police presented the crime numbers for last year, Col. Thomas E. Hutchins, the agency's superintendent, put a cover letter on to the report that said the numbers were "validated" by his agency. Shipley calls that word "unfortunate" because "when the letter refers to `validation,' it only means that the State Police Uniform Crime Reporting unit personnel check to make sure the numbers submitted to them are calculated correctly."

The Nose wanted to ask the mayor why his ad claimed that Ehrlich's "own State Police" validated the numbers. We were particularly interested since we know--after working closely with then-City Councilman O'Malley to get stories about problems inside the Baltimore Police Department in the late 1990s--that he is well aware of exactly how the crime numbers are handled by the State Police, despite whatever "unfortunate" word the superintendent uses. During his last few years in the Baltimore City Council, O'Malley got to know exactly how all of these things work when he was trying to show--successfully--that the statistics had been manipulated to make it look like crime was on a sharp decrease under then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke. While he was working to prove the books had been cooked, O'Malley spoke to the Nose virtually every weekday.

But Hizzoner didn't call us back when we tried to ask how he could have approved this commercial--especially since he knows that Maryland State Police doesn't actually check to make sure that crimes in Baltimore City are properly reported.

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