To keep 50 foot patrol officers on Baltimore's streets without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime, city police officials have ordered administrative staff and plainclothes detectives into uniform and placed them on the neighborhood beats.
The decision was an attempt to maintain the patrols -- a favorite of communities, politicians and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- in the face of ever-increasing pressures to cut costs and save money, police officials said yesterday.
The department spent $525,000 in overtime to staff the foot patrols from July 1, when they began, through the latter part of September, the police said.
Initially, only officers from the city's nine police districts worked the foot patrols on overtime. But now detectives and supervisory officers in areas as diverse as community relations, planning and research, and auto theft units have been pressed into service along with them. About 40 percent of the 50 officers in the foot patrol are being provided by these administrative and support operations.
Detectives in homicide, narcotics and vice units have not been tapped, officials said.
While some rank-and-file officers have grumbled about the decision, police officials said it was dictated by the financial climate. And, with the department planning within the year to implement a philosophy of community policing -- an effort to have officers get to know neighborhood residents on a daily basis -- police officials said it made sense.
"We all exist to service the men and women who are out there on patrol," said Ronald J. Mullen, the deputy commissioner in charge of operations. "It doesn't hurt us from time to time to get back out there and gain a sense of the nature of the job at this time. This gives them immediate exposure to the community and this will really help as the commissioner [Edward J. Woods] moves us forward to community policing."
The department's interest in maintaining a visible police presence in the community has gone one step further -- supervisors and officers who have had the option of wearing civilian clothes in their jobs at police headquarters have been told to wear their uniforms.
During last year's budget deliberations, the City Council set aside $1.5 million to pay for 50 foot patrol officers. But it takes time -- usually about nine months -- to recruit and train officers. At the end of September, police officials decided they had to find another way to fill the posts or risk overspending their overtime budget.