City police going back to the beat to herald the future Move called new philosophy, not new program.

February 12, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods has unveiled a new management plan that takes the Police Department into the future by reviving a central figure of the past: the cop on the beat.

Accompanied by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Mr. Woods yesterday laid out a community policing plan that is intended to streamline management, decentralize the department and place more police officers into neighborhoods.

The intent of the plan, developed by Gaffigan and Associates, a consulting firm, is to let officers become more familiar with neighborhoods they patrol so they may be able to solve problems before they explode into crimes, Mr. Schmoke said.

"We are announcing a new philosophy for policing, not a new program," Mr. Schmoke said. "Some of this involves going back to basics, no question about it."

The plan recommends the following changes:

* Giving district commanders more leeway in running their stations.

* Limiting the number of officers assigned to specialist duties in the department.

* Revamping the 911 system so fewer officers are taken off posts to respond and alternatives are explored when a police response will not solve a problem.

* Restructuring investigative operations so that only cases with clear leads are assigned for further investigation.

The plan also envisions having detectives doing more to stop crime patterns and track the activities of repeat offenders.

And, it calls for drawing new boundaries for the city's nine police districts, and creating a new district surrounding the Inner Harbor. "We want to have districts that respect neighborhood lines," Mr. Woods said.

Currently, police in Baltimore operate largely in a reactive way, responding in their squad cars to one 911 call after another, Mr. Schmoke said.

Community policing is intended to change that by putting police officers into closer contact with community groups and neighborhood businesses, and by teaching the public to use 911 only in the case of true police emergencies.

Many concerns that now prompt a 911 call -- and the response from a police cruiser that it automatically causes -- can actually be satisfied on the telephone, or by a city agency other than the Police Department, Mr. Schmoke said. That will free the time for police officers to serve the neighborhoods, he added.

"Our analysis of 911 calls shows that the department goes back to the same problem spot over and over and over again," said Stephen Gaffigan, one of the consultants.

Said Mr. Schmoke: "Instead of police going to a corner and arresting 10 people every night because of a bar that is operating illegally near the corner, we go to zoning and have the bar shut down."

Officials did not say when the plan would be put into effect.

Before moving forward, Mr. Schmoke said, he wants to gauge the response of community groups around the city to the plan.

The mayor said the pace of implementation will in some ways be tied to the amount of aid the city receives from the state government.

"People will see change in time," Mr. Schmoke said. "We are going to be looking for budgetary purposes this year at the structure, the hierarchy of the department."

Mr. Woods, meanwhile, said the plan could take as long as five years to fully implement because of its complexity.

While a small group of community leaders who attended the news conference applauded some of the recommendations, the head of the city's police union said he was unimpressed with the report.

"First off, with community policing you are going to need more police officers, and we are not talking about that," said Don W. Helms, president of Baltimore City Lodge No. 3, Fraternal Order of Police. "Also, I think you need to start this in a specific area and bring in people who want to do it," Mr. Helms said.

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