Baltimore to study community-based approach to policing

June 27, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

Baltimore has hired a consultant to explore ways of restructuring the Police Department so that police officials work to solve community problems rather than just make arrests, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced yesterday.

"What we're hoping to do is increase the visibility of the Police Department, to bring out more people from the community" and to use resources more efficiently, Mr. Schmoke said during a Board of Estimates meeting. "Community policing, I think, really is the way most cities are moving these days."

Gaffigan and Associates of Silver Spring, which was awarded the $84,190 consulting contract yesterday by the board, is expected to make its recommendations by November, Deputy Police Commissioner Michael C. Zotos said.

If the mayor decides to adopt community policing, the recommendations would be the basis for a five-year plan.

New York; Houston; Atlanta; Richmond, Va.; and Hartford, Conn., are among dozens of municipalities that have used community-based policing systems or are considering them.

The adoption of community policing in New York City involved the hiring of more than 1,000 additional officers, but Baltimore police officials said they don't know how many additional officers might be needed or how much it would cost the fiscally strapped city to begin such a program here.

Police officials said the city is considering restructuring the department because the 1.3 million calls each year to the 6-year-old 911 emergency telephone system make clear that, for some people, the department has become the first place to turn for such non-emergencies as abandoned vehicles, stray animals or rowdy children.

"We're answering service calls so often we often can't solve the problems," Dennis S. Hill, Baltimore police spokesman, said.

Police officials said that rather than have officers respond to the same problem over and over again, the city could better use scarce resources by having officers solve small problems in the community before they become larger ones.

For example, an officer called repeatedly to break up a married couple's fights might discover that a child's learning disability placed pressure on the marriage. The officer could then refer the couple to agencies offering remedial education, child care or other services, easing the tension between the combatants.

Community-based policing has been used New York City since 1989, where 11-member Community Police Officers Program (C-POP) teams work from each of the city's precincts.

In what is said to be a throwback to the old beat cop system, the C-POP officers are encouraged to take the time to get to know the community and, rather than rush from one emergency to another, to linger long enough to solve non-emergency problems.

"Before, you wouldn't have the resources to take care of quality-of-life problems, a park that needed to be cleaned up, noisy kids on the street, an abandoned vehicle . . . all these things that wouldn't be seen as a major concern by the police but were a major concern to the community," said New York police Sgt. Francisco Velez. "The department has come to realize that quality-of-life problems effect the community just as much as robbery, burglary and homicide."

In other action yesterday, the Board of Estimates approved an agreement with Baltimore County that would give officers from the two jurisdictions powers to make arrests and conduct investigations across their common border.

The agreement, which county police officials have sought for more than a decade, is subject to the approval of County Executive Roger B. Hayden and the County Council.

"All we can say is we are delighted to see there is movement," E. Jay Miller, Baltimore County police spokesman, said.

Under the agreement, a Baltimore County police officer who learns of a crime in progress in the city would be authorized to act as a city police officer. City officers would have the same power in the county.

Officers from Baltimore County whose investigation of a case leads them to Baltimore now must call the city police and in many cases wait for city officers to accompany them. Under the new agreement, that would not be necessary.

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