Police step up stadium patrols But some officers criticize move

August 04, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

Reacting to an increase in thefts near the Inner Harbor and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Police Department has pulled 15 detectives away their investigations and ordered them to patrol the streets and parking lots in uniform.

The squad of 12 detectives, two sergeants and a lieutenant returned to walking a beat on Monday for an indefinite period, officials said yesterday.

But at a time when serious crime is rising, the order reportedly has caused a rift among top police officials -- particularly since it came just a week after 52 foot patrol officers were dispatched to the city's most violent neighborhoods through the end of the year at a cost of about $1 million in overtime.

Although detectives assigned to the homicide, narcotics and robbery units will not be affected, the shift depletes the number of detectives handling other serious crimes in the Criminal Investigations Division, which has been overwhelmed by skyrocketing caseloads and reduced staffing levels.

Most of the nearly 200 CID detectives are excluded from the order and will not be in the rotation for patrolling parking lots and other areas. Detectives in CID's smaller units, such as the Crimes Against Property and Special Investigations sections, will be used, said Agent Doug Price, a department spokesman.

Agent Price said he could not say which specific units would supply the officers. But officers familiar with the action said that initially, the department's vice unit would lose a lieutenant, a sergeant and a detective, while Special Investigations would lose a sergeant and four detectives and the Crimes Against Property Section would lose seven detectives.

Vice detectives investigate prostitution and liquor law violations. Crimes Against Property cases include commercial and residential burglaries and large thefts, while Special Investigations detectives handle arson, fraud, auto theft, fugitives and escapees, extraditions and cases involving career criminals.

While he confirmed that the detectives "are indeed part of a special deployment in the Southern and Central districts," Agent Price would not say specifically where they would be assigned.

He said the areas would include "parking lots and parking areas in the downtown business district, where there has been an increase in property crimes, specifically thefts of autos and thefts from autos."

He said there was "a dramatic increase in thefts and property crimes in those areas during June and July," but could provide no statistics. Officers familiar with the assignments said they will focus on the Inner Harbor and stadium areas.

Calling the latest action "knee-jerk," some police officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity questioned the wisdom of putting detectives -- among the department's most experienced and highly trained officers -- on parking lot patrols.

"We just put out 52 officers on overtime to have the flexibility to move into high-crime areas, so why take detectives from CID, where we can ill-afford it, and put them in uniform?" asked one officer.

"Whether or not this is best allocation of resources is, well let's just say, subject to debate," that officer said.

According to police staffing reports, the overall number of detectives in CID dropped by 22 -- a decline of 10.3 percent -- between 1987 and 1992. The only area in CID that has seen a staff increase is the homicide unit, which is investigating a record-breaking number of murders for the second year in a row.

During the same five years, the number of reported crimes increased by 37.5 percent, according to the department's annual crime index. From 1987 to 1992, violent crime increased 52.5 percent and property crime increased 33.3 percent.

Agent Price declined to say how long the detail would be in effect, or the hours the detectives would be on patrol.

Police officers familiar with the assignment, however, said detectives would be working a 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift that could last at least until the end of the year.

While some officials were critical of the latest order, Agent Price defended the agency's action.

"This is not the first time -- nor will it be the last that there's a special deployment of officers," he said.

"As circumstances warrant, the department does make such temporary or indefinite changes in assignment of personnel as may be required to carry out existing operational imperatives," he said.

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