Thank you very much, County Executive, for your kind introduction and also for your courageous leadership. I also want to thank you for understanding that public safety is job one for all of us.
Behind me are individuals who have dedicated their life to the cause of saving lives in the State of Maryland, and all of them have been working together, and working in a cooperative way to make our State a safer, stronger, and more secure place.
As a people, we understand that public safety is a priority and that we need to invest in it. That’s why we’ve been able to increase our investment in things like the State Police helicopters that play such a vital role in getting people to Shock Trauma during those golden moments when their lives can be saved. It’s the MSFA funding, the Senator Amos Fund, and increasing funding for the Maryland State Police by approximately 12%.
We also celebrated a benchmark a few days ago when we recorded our 1000th DNA hit since the beginning of our DNA program in the State of Maryland. Keep in mind that program began in 1994, and until two years ago we only had 500 hits. In the last two years – with a concerted effort – we were able to record another 500 hits. That leads to an increased clearance rate of some of the most violent predators out there on our streets.
So far this year we are achieving a 20% reduction in homicides Statewide. We have achieved a 45% reduction in fire deaths Statewide, a 6% reduction in traffic fatalities and a 36% reduction of juvenile homicides.
I say that because every single life matters, and one very important part of being able to save lives is the ability to communicate across every first responder agency in our State. Since September 11, 2001, the whole country has been talking about the importance of interoperability – the ability to communicate with each other in responding to an emergency.
But I would guess that there’s probably not one state that’s truly achieved statewide interoperability. That’s unthinkable, and the next time a big tragedy hits – whether man-made or something as horrible as Hurricane Katrina – the public is going to want to know what progress was made towards having a truly statewide system of interoperability.
So today we’re updating you on a few things we’ve been working on and making a few announcements. We’re announcing a three-part strategy for developing a statewide network for interoperable communications. It’s our belief that together we can build one of the most effective systems in the nation, and there are, in essence, three parts to this strategy:
1. All of us have come together across local, municipal, and statewide borders to agree that we need to have in our One Maryland one emergency radio system. So yesterday we issued an RFP for a statewide radio system.
Localities have been terrific about building their own systems over the past decade, but now we’re going to have our State government fully engaged as well. We’re able to leverage funds for this system because we’re combining resources that had previously been spread across a number of different agencies.
So, rather than a disjointed collection of one-off, unconnected systems, we are now going to be building one interoperable system for our One Maryland.
2. In a few moments, I’ll be signing an Executive Order that will create the Maryland Statewide Communications Interoperability Program. We are going to be naming an Interoperability Director to run that program, and we are going to be setting up one office charged with strengthening public safety communications throughout our State.
We are really blessed and fortunate as Marylanders to have someone of John Contestabile’s professionalism, technical expertise, and know-how – he will serve as our State’s first Interoperability Director.
John currently runs the Office of Engineering and Emergency Services at MDOT. John has served for three decades in our State; he is now going to report directly to Colonel Sheridan. Our State Police are going to lead and drive this effort.
Under the Executive Order we will also create a Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee to help inform and guide our efforts. The 34 members of that committee from all over the State have really been working since last year. They have really gotten us far down the road towards being able to leverage dollars, towards the goal of Statewide interoperability.
3. We are also going to be leveraging nearly $25 million in federal Homeland Security grants to develop State and local communications interoperability projects. You might ask, why didn’t we do this in the past?
Well, we did this in the past, but we did it in a very disjointed way – in a way that did not drive us toward that point on the horizon where all of us will be able to speak with one another on whatever radio systems we happen to have.
So that $25 million will go to some 22 different projects all around the State. In many instances, those are projects that are led and initiated by local governments, but nonetheless fill a gap that we had from a statewide perspective. They will include the construction of towers where we currently have dead zones, fiber optic connectivity projects, and regional interoperability projects.
We are also going to be connecting all of our 911 centers and our hospitals throughout our State. We may well be the first State that reaches that level of interoperability, tying together all our 911 centers and all our hospitals.
All of this moves us closer to that goal, when we will be able to have a truly statewide system of interoperable communications.
It’s a horrible tragedy whenever any single life is lost for any reason in our State. It’s a preventable tragedy when it happens because we can’t communicate with each other.
It’s not a matter of lacking the technology; it’s not a matter of the know-how, or even, in these really challenging times, a matter of money. It’s a matter of exercising that greatest of freedom’s privileges: the privilege to be able to choose to be responsible for coordinating and cooperating across jurisdictional lines.
So that we actually show the rest of the nation what can happen when people come together, and they subordinate parochial interests to advance the common good, which in turn makes every neighborhood, every county, and every municipality in our State stronger.
So I want to thank you all for coming out here today.