Elizabeth Embry aims to reform the criminal justice system

Elizabeth Embry is a bright technocrat whose years in government have taught her the value of strong management and measurable results. She wants to implement those things in Baltimore's government and fire up city workers and residents alike.

Embry, currently Chief of the Criminal Division of the Maryland Attorney General's Office, has worked for two mayors and two state's attorneys, and served on Governor Larry Hogan's heroin task force. She wants to make criminal records expungement automatic for those who qualify.

"The public benefit of having law enforcement access to criminal records does not translate into the rest of society," she says. "Because criminal records make people less attractive to employers."

Embry has specific proposals to create better police accountability, beginning with a "parallel investigation" system that allows Internal Affairs to look into a misconduct allegation at the same time as criminal investigators.

"Right now this department waits until any criminal investigation concludes before doing an IAD investigation," she says. Many other jurisdictions do them simultaneously, so evidence is not old and so cops don't spend a year or two suspended with pay while they await the investigations' results. Embry says there would need to be a "Chinese wall" between the parallel investigations—something that sounds hard to do in a department like Baltimore City's. "They worry about leakage across" the wall, she says.

Embry has additional plans for the police department, urging more use of data. She reimagines CompStat, the police data tracker, as a tool to proactively fight crime in a way that could lead to "a positive feedback loop with the community."

If a burglary victim makes a report, then the sergeant checks with the victim to see how well the detective treated them. If a cop does a street interview, a sergeant will check the person who was stopped and ask how it went, Embry says, to "see if that person thinks it was a productive interaction."

Embry says she would measure the success rate of the criminal cases the police make, "not that it's always the detective's fault" if a case gets dropped or a jury is unconvinced.

She says she'll "bring competence to our use of technology," and that raises an issue most Baltimoreans encounter: the disconnect between city policies, as described by managers, and the lived reality.

Embry puts these down to management failures. "CitiStat has fallen apart," she says. "Processes are locked-in that are inefficient, so CitiStat was one way to force rethinking and reform of poor practices and allow managers to think clearly about processes."

She cites a recent audit of the Department of Transportation that discovered that not only had the city department failed to keep records of what it had done, but it literally made up the budget figures it submitted to the mayor and City Council.

"The Housing Authority has not been subjected to CitiStat—it should," she says, as that system might have long-ago weeded out or caught the employees and their higher-ups who were accused in a "sex-for-repairs scandal." Someone would have noticed that work tickets weren't being punched in a timely fashion.

But how to fix this? "The best thing you can do," Embry says, "is bring in the best people and instill that drive."

Embry cites the Schaefer Administration, for whom her father, Abell Foundation President Robert Embry, served as Housing Director. William Donald Schaefer was always pushing city employees to "do it now," whether it was filling potholes or erecting a new baseball stadium with a Light Rail.

"Schaefer is the mayor I grew up with," Embry says. She adds before being asked: Schaefer governed in a different era, before the federal government cut aid to cities. "But what we can replicate is that spirit of urgency," she says. "And that sense of public service."

Every mayor wants to invest in new initiatives, and they all know they're not going to get piles of new money to do it with. They can raise taxes—maybe—or cut other things. Or they can say they'll fund their projects and programs out of the savings they make.

"I don't think we need to cut," Embry says. "There is money to be saved by looking at our internal processes." She talks up the "Public Safety Compact"—it's a stump standard. Let an entity (non profit) perform a government service and pay them with the dollars saved (over the inefficient government system). This is, of course, the sort of thing government thinkers—particularly Democrats with technocratic credentials—have been implementing all of our lives, with decidedly mixed results.

"I want Baltimore to be the leader" in this area, Embry says.

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