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State's Attorney Ivan Bates on youth violence in Baltimore, Maryland gun laws, police 'do not call' list

Exclusive: WJZ talks crime, gun laws with Baltimore City State's Attorney Ivan Bates
Exclusive: WJZ talks crime, gun laws with Baltimore City State's Attorney Ivan Bates 02:57

BALTIMORE — Baltimore City State's Attorney Ivan Bates is pushing for tougher sentences for those arrested with illegal guns and talking about the toll violence is taking on the city's youth. 

Bates has gotten attention for reversing some of the policies of his predecessor Marilyn Mosby and has faced criticism from several progressive groups. 

WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren sat down exclusively with the state's attorney for a progress report on his office since taking over in early January. 

"How would you say things are going so far?" Hellgren asked.

"I think things are going well. I would say like anything in life you're new, there are some growing pains," Bates said. "…We're doing the things we're supposed to. We're rebuilding the trust in the community. We're holding individuals accountable. We're fighting to keep citizens safe."

Bates recently advocated to raise the maximum sentence for those 21 and older caught with an illegal gun from three to five years behind bars.

"We're cautiously optimistic. Any time we're talking about illegal handguns and we get that bill passed, without a doubt, that's a victory for us, for our office," Bates said of the legislation.

He has faced opposition from those who say longer sentences are not a deterrent to crime.

The Washington Post recently cited Bates as part of a wave of Democrats nationally who are taking a tougher stance on crime.

"I don't like to call it tough on crime, I like to call it smart on crime. The tool I've been given as the state's attorney, as prosecutors, when folks do very bad actions in our community is jail," the state's attorney said. "But we also recognize not everybody needs to go to jail. Dealing with low-level offenses, we're not trying to incarcerate our way with them but hold people accountable. We're looking at citations. We're looking at how do we get those wrap-around services for individuals."

During Marilyn Mosby's term, she declined to prosecute some lower-level crimes.

Bates maintains a 'do not call' list, similar to Mosby's. It contains names of officers with integrity issues that they will not call to testify in court. He says he has maintained an open dialogue with police and public defenders "to try to have a better understanding of what the do not call list means, what it encompasses and what are the real officers who we refuse to try to call. So, we're working a lot more collaboratively with everyone."

Bates said he has a good relationship with BPD commissioner Michael Harrison—and has also reached out to the police union and attended a daily roll call to hear directly from officers on their challenges and concerns.

Hellgren asked him about vacancies in his office. He said while some prosecutors left along with Mosby, he has hired 23 with more on the way. 

So far this year, homicides and non-fatal shootings are both down by 29 percent compared to 2022 in Baltimore City.

Homicides stand at 53 as of Monday morning compared to 75 at this time last year. 

There have been 103 non-fatal shootings compared to 145 by this point in 2022.

Still, seven Baltimore city students have been shot and killed raising concerns in the community.

"As a father, I'm concerned," Bates told Hellgren. 

"These poor children are dying in our streets. We don't want to see anyone dying in our streets," he said—and noted parents have to speak candidly with their children.  "We really have to get a renewed focus on our young people because their lives are too valuable. 

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