Budget cuts that will leave the Baltimore County Police Department 122 officers short next month have prompted police officials to announce a major reorganization that will shift dozens of supervisors and administrators to patrol duties.
The plan proposed by Chief Cornelius J. Behan was to be implemented in July, but will take effect Feb. 1 to cope with staff shortages caused by unfilled vacancies and the number of officers accepting a retirement incentive package announced last year by County Executive Roger B. Hayden.
The department had 1,581 authorized positions as of Dec. 30, but is now 47 officers short.
The number of vacancies will rise to 122 officers by the end of the month, with 50 current vacancies and 72 retirements due to take effect Feb. 1, said Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, a county police spokesman.
Sergeant Doarnberger said the department's plan is aimed at maintaining the department's current ability to investigate crimes and respond to calls for help.
"We're not going to sacrifice public safety in any of this," he said.
But Lt. Timothy Caslin, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, said the lack of people is going to reduce the quality of service. He said that as an example, four detectives are being taken out of the criminal investigation division, which will hurt investigative efforts.
"The total efficiency of the department's going to go down," Lieutenant Caslin said. "We're disappointed once again, that funds are not going to be there at the levels where they're needed."
The police union is contesting a cost-cutting furlough plan proposed by Mr. Hayden that would require all police officers to take five days off without pay.
Under the plan announced yesterday:
* The east, central and west patrol areas will be merged into two patrol areas -- east and west -- eliminating one police major's position. That means instead of majors overseeing each of three patrol areas, two majors will oversee two larger areas.
* The Citizen Oriented Police Enforcement unit (COPE) will be merged into east and west units and will lose 10 officers, four sergeants and one lieutenant, all of whom will be reassigned to patrol duties.
Today, three COPE units, each with 15 officers, work on drug and major crime-fighting efforts in communities with special problems.
* Four detectives from the Criminal Investigation Division will be reassigned to patrol.
* The Employment/Affirmative Action Division, which is responsible for recruiting minorities and conducting background investigations on prospective officers, will be dissolved and its nine workers reassigned. The unit is not needed because there is a job freeze and no academy classes are planned, Sergeant Doarnberger said.
* Precinct 9 in White Marsh and Precinct 8 in Parkville will be merged under one command. Sergeant Doarnberger said both stations will remain open and there will be no reduction in the number of officers assigned to either precinct.
Lieutenant Caslin said that the unions representing most of the 20,000 county employees plan to hold a rally Jan. 28 at 4 p.m. to protest state and county budget cuts at the county courthouse in Towson.