Community policing does not necessarily require great organizational convulsions. But when a Silver Spring consulting firm recently assessed the performance of the Baltimore City Police Department, it recommended decentralization and flattening of the command structure as ways to implement community policing.
The first of the many shake-ups to come has now happened. Thtop echelon has been streamlined and the positions of chief of patrol and three area chiefs have been eliminated. The new head of the patrol force throughout the city is Deputy Commissioner Eugene Tanzymore Jr., who will report directly to Commissioner Edward V. Woods.
Alongside the patrol bureau are bureaus for operations supporthuman resources and services, each headed by a deputy. This is the organization that will be used later this year, when the department begins its protracted shift to decentralized community policing. Under that plan, the nine districts will be transformed into something resembling New York City-type independent precincts, each with its own detectives as well as patrol personnel. The end result, it is hoped, will bring the crime-fighting closer to the communities.
This is the first thoroughgoing reorganization of the city policsince the mid-1960s. It is facilitating a major racial change, bringing blacks to most top jobs in the department. So many whites in senior positions are bailing out that soon "all but one, or possibly two, of those holding any rank above major in the Baltimore force will be black," according to Sun reporters Roger Twigg and David Simon.
Commissioner Woods angrily denies allegations of reverse discrimination, but declares: "Any department, in order to have a healthy organization, has to mirror the community it serves."
The problem is, of course, that while the city is about 65 percent black, the police department is 70 percent white. Aside from top officers' positions, whites predominate heavily in the ranks of captain, lieutenant and sergeant. If those officers conclude -- as some already have done -- that they are in dead-end jobs without hTC any hope for promotion, the department is certain to have serious morale problems.
The next several months could be a severe test for the police department. There will be much organizational turbulence. There also will be inescapable griping from people wedded to the old methods of doing things.
As if this were not enough, the police headquarters will move from Fayette Street to the old Hecht's building on Howard Street within the next 16 months, requiring much planning. This will be a time of trial and error. Commissioner Woods should not hesitate to make changes if the new set-up or key personnel do not work out.