Decorated officer rankles Police Department Officers or gear? Use of $2 million surplus debated BALTIMORE CITY

April 29, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

A high-ranking Baltimore police official told a City Council subcommittee last night the department wants to spend its unanticipated $2 million surplus on high-technology equipment -- drawing an irate response from a councilman who said the money should be spent on more foot patrolmen.

Maj. Steven A. Crumrine, director of the department's fiscal division, said police officials had discussed with city finance officials several weeks ago a plan to use the funds to purchase mobile data terminals for patrol cars, a document image management system to file police reports and an automated mug shot system.

Together, he said, the equipment would save thousands of man-hours, freeing more police officers to patrol the streets.

But Councilman Martin O'Malley, D-3rd, derided the hardware as "hi-fi equipment" and sharply attacked Police Department priorities. "Homicide rates are rising. Violent crime is up. For the department to march in here and say, 'We are going to have new technology,' I think is absolutely ludicrous," Mr. O'Malley shouted.

"Let's get funded vacancies filled first before we start looking at new technology," he added.

Mr. O'Malley's outburst came near the conclusion of a hearing on the proposed Police Department budget that ended as it had begun -- with a highly charged moment.

The hearing had started with a dramatic appearance by one of at least three police officers who had been subpoenaed by the council to testify on the possible misuse of federal narcotics funds but had been told by their superiors not to appear.

Edward E. Fox Jr. told the council he wanted to acknowledge its subpoena, but said he wanted to be excused from testifying because "as far as my job, I have a problem."

Mr. Fox and two other officers had complained to a special grand jury and the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission about improper and discriminatory practices regarding overtime pay for black narcotics officers.

On Tuesday, City Solicitor Neal M. Janey said that the council had no authority to subpoena witnesses from the Police Department in part because it is legally a state agency, although it receives most of its funds from the city. Mr. Janey said the department could take "appropriate disciplinary action against any officers who disclose information without permission."

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. agreed yesterday that the Police Department "has always been presumed to be a state agency."

But Councilmen Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th, who chaired last night's hearing, and Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, lambasted the decision not to let the officers testify.

The Police Department budget is the object of intense council scrutiny because of a proposal by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to raise the piggyback income tax rate from 50 percent to 52 percent to pay for 120 more police officers. Opponents of the proposal say money now exists to pay for the officers without raising taxes.

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