Baltimore to put 300 more police on street patrol

April 26, 1995|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer John Rivera contributed to this article.

Baltimore police plan to move at least 300 officers from desk jobs to street patrol as part of a reorganization effort aimed at reinvigorating the department and easing citizen fears about crime.

The plan, to be announced at a news conference today, calls for new civilian hires to replace many officers now assigned to administrative jobs. Officials said the moves will begin as soon as possible and should be completed within two years.

The reassignments were prompted by a new consultant's study that shows Baltimore's Police Department is top-heavy with administrators. The report found that 42 percent of the city's 3,088 police officers do not patrol local streets.

Police officials would not comment on the initiative last night. Sam Ringgold, the department's chief spokesman, said Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier would not discuss the plan until today's news conference.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who was briefed on the reorganization two weeks ago, said last night that the plan is designed to "increase policevisibility." Mr. Schmoke, who was interviewed at last night's $500-a-plate fund-raiser at the Christopher Columbus Center, said the reshuffling can be done within the Police Department's existing budget and "without hiring a lot of new people."

More than anything, the department's hierarchy sees the initiative as a way to make Baltimore safer.

"The No. 1 priority is to fight crime," one high-ranking police official said. "To do that, you need officers on the street."

The scheduled announcement today, coming one day after the mayor's re-election kickoff, has his opponent charging that politics, not increased police protection, is the prime motive for paring desk jobs.

"I'm sure this is another political maneuver," said Cheryl Benton, the campaign manager for City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who is a frequent critic of the police commissioner.

"A day before his announcement that he is running for re-election, he has a plan to put more police officers on the streets?" Ms. Benton asked, noting that Mr. Schmoke imposed a hiring freeze on the Police Department in 1992. "Do you think anyone is buying into this?"

A mayoral aide denied that politics played a part in today's announcement. "Granted, the timing is perfect, but one doesn't have anything to do with another," the aide said.

Community leaders interviewed last night said they were pleased with the prospect of more patrols.

"We certainly think that's a good idea," said the Rev. Elijah B. McDaniel Sr., president of the Pembridge Neighborhood Association. "Maybe they'll be able to do something about the drug problem in the neighborhood."

Mr. McDaniel, who also is pastor of First Philadelphia Baptist Church in East Baltimore, said an increased presence "will have a psychological effect. . . . I recall the time when we had policemen in the neighborhood walking a beat. That was some time ago, but it was effective."

Two weeks ago, Mr. Schmoke recommended increasing the Police Department's $206 million budget by $6.2 million for fiscal year 1996, which will start July 1. Some of the money would be combined with federal grants to hire 111 police officers.

The $129,000 consultant's study commissioned in November authorized Management Partners of Cincinnati to make a position-by-position review of the Police Department. Mrs. Clarke voted against the provision, and the police union argued that the money would be better spent hiring new officers.

Management Partners was awarded another contract in 1994 for $20,000, and its conclusions led to a shake-up in the department's command structure in which several top ranks were eliminated and some longtime commanders left the force.

But the department is battling a seemingly losing war against officers leaving. Almost as many officers retire or jump to other departments as are hired, prompting Mr. Frazier to complain during one interview that "we are getting robbed."

Last night, Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the police union, questioned whether hundreds of officers can be moved from administrative jobs, and said that the department would have less of a problem losing officers if it offered higher salaries.

"The more able-bodied police officers we have working the street, the better off we'll be," Officer McLhinney said, adding that the department is on a pace to lose 244 officers by the end of 1995. "This is like putting a Band-Aid on an injury that needs a tourniquet," he said.

The officers reassigned to the street would supplement new officers being trained at the academy; a class of 47 recruits graduated earlier this month and another class is being held now.

A police source close to Mr. Frazier said last night that the plan envisions the hiring of replacement civilians, consolidating some department functions and using more computerized equipment.

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