Officers not due before '94 Training 60 police funded in budget will take months

July 05, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

The 60 additional police officers provided for in Baltimore's fiscal 1994 budget will not begin walking their beats before next year.

"If you gave each of those officers a gold star to pin on their hat today, it's going to take seven months before that officer is on the street enforcing the law," according to Maj. Patrick L. Bradley, director of the Police Department's education and training division.

One reason for the lag between authorization and assignment, Major Bradley explained recently, is the 28 weeks of classroom and field training new recruits receive after they are hired -- 12 weeks more than the state-required minimum police training course.

It could take a year or more to bring the department up to full authorized strength, said Major Bradley. That's because retiring officers must be replaced and 120 vacancies stemming from past budget cuts must still be filled, he said.

Last Monday, the City Council passed -- and the Board of Estimates approved -- a $2.2 billion budget that maintains the current property tax rate and provides money for 60 more police officers.

The council action came at a rare special session after a veto by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of a budget the council had passed June 21 that would have cut a nickel from the property tax rate.

The mayor said the city could not afford to add police and cut the property tax this year.

The 60 additional officers in the fiscal 1994 budget brings the Police Department's authorized strength to 3,099, 73 less than in 1980, departmental figures show. During that time, the number of violent crimes reported annually has steadily increased from 16,500 to 21,800.

Baltimore is on pace to break the record 335 homicides committed last year.

Concerns about the size of the police force punctuated last week'sbudget debate in the City Council.

Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, a 4th District Democrat, suggested that the department is hamstrung by administrative problems rather than a shortage of personnel.

"If you don't manage your resources properly, it doesn't matter how many people you have on the street," said Mr. Bell, who reluctantly supported the mayor's budget. "There will be no excuses in the future. Nowhere to hide. One wants to see results in fighting crime."

But Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, a 6th District Democrat, said he'd like to see even more officers on the streets.

"I think the Baltimore City Police Department is grossly understaffed. I don't think we should be talking about 60 more police officers. I think we should be talking about 1,000 more police officers," Mr. Murphy said.

Mayor Schmoke, for his part, has cautioned that crime in Baltimore is "not going to go away in six months," but said more police were needed to speed up community policing, to make people feel safer and to combat violent crime. Community policing, which is now under way on a limited basis in East Baltimore, calls for a close working relationship between neighborhood residents and foot patrol officers.

As of last week, the Police Department had 2,919 sworn officers, according to spokesman Sam Ringgold.

The 120 vacancies -- down from 167 vacancies in March -- stem largely from positions that were frozen because of previous budget cuts.

The Police Department is now training 160 recruits in four classes at its training academy in Owings Mills, said Major Bradley, the training director. Each of the four classes has 40 recruits and the graduation times are staggered, with the first due to leave the academy Friday and the others in September, October and January. New classes are already scheduled to start in August, October, December and February.

The academy typically graduates about 38 recruits from each class, Major Bradley said.

But the department also typically loses 10 to 12 officers per month to retirements or resignations, he said, slowing the reduction in the number of vacancies.

The 28-week training program includes classes ranging from physical training to psychology and more than 70 hours of firearms training, twice the state requirement.

The city could put more officers on the streets more quickly by reducing recruit training to the state-mandated 16 weeks, Major Bradley said. But it wouldn't be a wise decision, he added.

"The officers in Baltimore need more sophistication and more preparation than the absolute bare minimum," he explained. "This is the deep end of the pool as far as law enforcement is concerned. We owe it to the citizens and the officers that the officers be fully prepared before they go out."

Major Bradley said the department is exploring the possibility of moving the academy to a larger site in the city that would make it possible to hold more classes.

But he declined to name the new site that's under consideration andsaid any move is at least a year away.

Major Bradley described recruitment as a "labor intensive process" and said adding more classes could strain the system.

Indeed, it can take as long to recruit a police officer as to train one, because of time-consuming factors such as background checks, psychological testing and physical exams.

It takes 800 applicants to produce a training class of 40 officers, according to Mr. Ringgold.

Even so, the Police Department says it has not had trouble finding recruits.

Many of the applicants have military backgrounds and are looking for civilian jobs because of the downsizing of the armed forces, police officials say.

"I get 25-50 requests a week from out-of-state residents," Maj. Ronald L. Daniel, head of the department's personnel office, said recently. "We don't even have to advertise. Thousands of people want a job here."

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