Baltimore County police officers have been ordered to cut back their driving by 15 percent -- a move that will delay officers' responses to emergency calls and leave some communities without regular patrols, according to the police officers' union.
Col. Michael D. Gambrill, head of the department's field operations bureau, issued the order Jan. 17, intending to save $400,000 in this year's budget.
The department spent $2.6 million to operate patrol cars last year and pays 30 cents a mile for the use of other county-owned vehicles, said Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, a police spokesman.
The plan calls for a cutback in random patrols and for officers to park their cars in high-crime areas while they await calls.
It brought an angry response from Lt. L. Tim Caslin, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, representing county officers.
"We want our people out there patrolling," Lieutenant Caslin said last week. "These are dedicated officers who want to do their jobs. This means that certain communities will not have regular patrols. I think they [police officials] need to tell the public that patrols are being greatly reduced. It's not fair to the citizens of the county."
While the department would like to maintain random patrols, it is hard to measure their effectiveness in reducing crime, Sergeant Doarnberger said. "With the budget situation such as it is, you have to make some tough decisions," he said. "Next to personnel costs, gasoline is our second-largest expense."
Sergeant Doarnberger said precinct commanders are taking the following steps to reduce mileage:
* Some officers are being placed on foot patrol.
* During slow periods, officers in each of the nine precincts will park their cars in high-crime areas.
* Some officers are doubling up in cars to patrol two adjacent posts in one vehicle.
* The use of spare police cars will be restricted. They have often been driven by auxiliary police officers but now will be used only when officers have assignments.
Lieutenant Caslin said county officials have gone beyond cutting the police budget to the bone. "I would say they have cut into the bone," he said. "I hate for the criminals to find out that we aren't patrolling. Is this what the citizens want? Are they willing to pay less taxes and get less service?"