City Police Blockade

January 23, 1992

~TC Baltimore City's promised community policing effort is getting off to a dubious start. Consider this:

Last week, Dennis Hill, the department's spokesman for 21 years, confirmed to The Sun that he has been told his $64,000-a-year-job has been abolished as part of a departmental reorganization, just nine months before he would be eligible for retirement. Asked for comment, Commissioner Edward V. Woods refused to confirm the dismissal or discuss the reorganization further.

What's going on here?

On June 26, the city Board of Estimates hired a consultant to explore ways to restructure the police department so that officers could devote time to solving community problems that contribute to criminality, not just make arrests. Gaffigan and Associates of Silver Spring, which was awarded the $84,190 contract, said it expected to make its recommendations by November. Those recommendations, if approved by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, then were to be the basis of a five-year plan for police reorganization.

The Gaffigan consulting report is finally in. By firing Mr. Hill, Commissioner Woods apparently has started to implement it. Yet no record exists of that reorganization ever having been approved by anyone. In fact, the police department refuses to release the consultant's recommendations, saying they are privileged information for the mayor only.

What happened to openness in government? What happened to the public's right to know?

In recent years, "community policing" has become a law-enforcement fad throughout the nation. Definitions of the concept -- and its implementation -- vary greatly. So do assessments of the results. However, everyone seems to agree that community policing could help reestablish the public's trust in the city's police department. But such trust can only be created in an atmosphere of frankness.

That goal cannot be met if the police department operates in secrecy. The city police reorganization is a matter of vital and urgent community concern. It ought to be discussed and debated in public forums. Mayor Schmoke has an obligation to city residents to make the plan public immediately. Baltimore taxpayers have a right to know how their city is being policed.

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