The Baltimore area's roving shotgun robbers have pushed city and Baltimore County police to accept a long-delayed mutual aid proposal that would give them arrest powers in both )) jurisdictions.
"The criminal does not see boundaries, so why should the police?" asked Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods.
The string of area robberies today brought together Woods, Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, County Executive Roger B. Hayden, and county police chief Cornelius J. Behan at the Pikesville Holiday Inn, the scene of a Feb. 28 robbery in which one employee was shot.
The four announced the new policy during a news conference at the motel.
City police have resisted forging such an agreement for years, citing the need for their officers, many of whom live in the %J surrounding county, to "be able to relax" when off duty, in the words of one high-ranking city officer. "We tell them to call for an officer if they see anything," said the official, who refused to speak publicly. "When they're out with their wives and children, we don't want them to worry," he continued.
Also at issue are the differing policies on hot pursuit chases. City policy prohibits such pursuit unless there would be more danger to the public to break off. County officers, who patrol many lightly traveled rural roadways and high-speed freeways, have more discretion. Some county officers also believe, according to one high source, that city officials have been reluctant to have county police able to arrest people in the city.
All that will change in the near future, however, according to the political and police leaders of the two jurisdictions.
Baltimore County already has such reciprocal pacts with other counties, including Howard, Harford and Anne Arundel, and with the State Police, who patrol Carroll County.
Although all stressed the high level of continuous cooperation between the two departments that has been routine for years, and especially in the current robbery investigations, the agreement, when signed, will make a difference.
Schmoke said, for example, that officers pursuing leads in an DTC investigation that take them across the city-county boundaries now must notify the home jurisdiction, and wait until some local officers are free to accompany them.
In addition, city officers off duty in the county, or vice versa, may not legally make an arrest if they witness a crime. City officers, in particular, are now told to call county police if they see a crime in progress in the county.
After the agreement is signed, county detectives investigating a robbery, for example, could go alone to question someone in the city if no city officer is available to accompany them, and the same would apply to city officers following leads in the county. Differences in the pursuit policy have been narrowed over the years, according to county police spokesman E. Jay Miller, and will be quickly ironed out now that the unifying decision has been made.
Schmoke said he is worried not only that the wave of robberies is leaving "deep psychological scars on the victims," but also that the robberies will "hurt the quality of life" generally because of widespread fear among the public and business workers and owners.