Cuts threaten police with 'mediocrity' Chief Behan lobbies council on budget

May 08, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Baltimore County Police Chief Cornelius J. Behan told the County Council yesterday that budget cuts have forced him to cannibalize his department, pushing it to the point where it is "on the brink of slipping into mediocrity."

All of the support units that provide investigative backup for street patrol officers have been decimated, the chief said. He added that he would need another 337 officers to fight crime properly. The county now has 1,435 officers to serve its 692,000 residents.

Things are so bad, Chief Behan said, that police headquarters has to be locked up at night to protect the civilians working inside; there are no officers available to provide security.

He noted that yesterday marked his 16th appearance before the council over the years but that "this is the first time I've felt I should report on the state of the department."

Chief Behan asked the council not to cut $735,000 in merit and longevity pay increases for police from County Executive Roger B. Hayden's proposed budget. Already, he said, officers have suffered because they have not gotten a cost-of-living increase since January 1991 and have lost pay for five furlough days.

"Young officers come to me pleading for help" because they can't afford their house payments, he said. Starting pay is $23,928, but it takes 15 years of merit and longevity increases to bring an annual salary to $35,000. Sixty percent of the county's police officers should get raises next year for merit or longevity, he said.

To keep a sufficient number of officers on the streets, Chief Behan said he virtually eliminated technical support units -- including marine police, detectives, lab technicians, precinct crime analysts, crime-prevention and neighborhood-crime specialists, victim-witness aid officers, and fingerprint and polygraph specialists -- and diverted everyone to patrol duty.

But "patrol is not the answer to crime," he told the council.

The problem, he said, is that the street officers generally don't do as much actual crime fighting as the support units. Rather, they answer calls about nuisances, loud parties, car accidents and the like.

Moreover, undercover narcotics officers are concerned for their safety because cutbacks in car purchases have forced them to use the same vehicles for longer stretches, making them easier for dealers to identify.

Mr. Hayden's proposed budget for the Police Department for fiscal 1993 is $5.6 million less in actual dollars than this year's budget. Mr. Behan told council members he would have needed $8 million more just to provide the same level of service.

But the County Council has no power to add to the budget, only to cut it. The council is now considering what cuts might be made in the county executive's proposed $1.15 billion budget.

The council has scheduled a public hearing May 12 on the budget. It will make its final decisions and set a new property tax rate by June 1.

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