City work force to join crime fight, mayor says

February 23, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

Promising that police officers would not be left alone to face the burden of rising crime in Baltimore, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke told graduating police trainees yesterday that housing inspectors and other city employees would be enlisted in the war against crime.

Mayor Schmoke said that city employees whose jobs take them into neighborhoods will be trained as "block watchers" to detect and report signs of criminal activity, and that various agencies will develop a range of programs to combat crime or to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

"I can't tell you with precision what will happen with violent crime this year, but I will tell you this -- that I am not turning a blind eye to this outrage," said Mr. Schmoke, who noted that there were 305 murders in the city last year and that two more people were gunned down Wednesday in West Baltimore.

Mr. Schmoke made his comments at the commencement exercises for 33 graduating police trainees at the East Fayette Street headquarters.

L. Tracy Brown, director of the mayor's coordinating council on criminal justice, said the city's 110 housing inspectors, whose jobs allow them to see neighborhood problems close up, will receive police training in recognizing criminal violations and other things that could affect public safety, such as burned-out street lamps or vacant houses used for drug activity.

But Ms. Brown and other officials apparently were caught off-guard by the mayor's comments and did not know when or how such a plan would be implemented.

Ms. Brown said the plan was in its formative stages and she knew few details of how it would proceed. And John Huppert, director of housing inspection services, said he did not know of any plan to have police officers train housing inspectors.

"Frankly, I'm surprised the mayor talked about it, because we're not far along enough to make much of a story of it," Ms. Brown said.

Mr. Schmoke said he expected problems in trying to put such an ambitious program into place. For example, a judge might rule as inadmissible evidence of drug dealing discovered by a housing inspector while inside someone's home, the mayor said.

And the plan could encounter resistance from unions representing city workers.

Cheryl Boykins Glenn, president of the 5,300-member City Union of Baltimore, said she was concerned that asking city employees to take on anti-crime responsibilities could endanger them.

"I would have a serious problem with responsibilities being placed on any of our employees for protective services if that is not their duty, they are not trained, and especially if they are not being compensated for it," Ms. Glenn said. "We don't want to jeopardize our people."

This is not the first time city leaders have tried to find ways of getting more information into the hands of police officers, according to police spokesman Dennis S. Hill.

For example, officers have trained taxi drivers, delivery drivers and city employees who drive vehicles with radios to recognize illegal activities and call them in.

And last night, members of the clergy were scheduled to ride a shift in police cruisers to get a feel for what police officers face in trying to control crime.

The mayor also urged the graduating trainees to be sensitive to complaints of harassment that have been leveled by minority groups against the Police Department.

"Remember, it's not fear you want from this community, it's help and admiration," the mayor said. "You are police officers now, and that puts you in the position of healing wounds of mistrust that still linger."

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