Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan is weighing a plan to cut the number of majors in the department by combining several precincts under one commander -- a move that eventually could free cash to put more officers on the street.
Sheridan, who in July merged command of the Dundalk and Essex precincts under one major, is working on a plan to link some of the county's other precincts in the same manner, but he said he does not have a specific time frame in mind.
Possible management combinations are Garrison and Cockeysville; Towson, White Marsh and Parkville; and Woodlawn and Wilkens.
"We are still looking at the Essex and Dundalk precincts and seeing how that works," he said. "To do this in the other precincts, it has to be demonstrated that we don't need more majors."
But Sheridan acknowledges that a reorganization could present him with the delicate task of finding useful positions elsewhere in the department for high-ranking officers -- and making the command changes without hurting morale. The eventual goal would be to reduce the total number of majors in the department.
The shift being considered -- making a major responsible for a larger geographical area -- is the kind of reorganization being considered in departments around the country, said Craig Fraser, director of management services at the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington.
"The question has become, just how much management do we need?" Fraser said. "And to use a business analogy, how can we better serve our customers and run a more efficiently organized business?"
When Sheridan took over the 1,535-officer department in April, he inherited an agency in which eight of the nine precincts were headed by a major who was the commander and responsible for investigative units and the community policing programs that work with neighborhood groups. The captain in each precinct handled the patrol officers and their daily operations.
This management system was promoted by former Chief Michael D. Gambrill and former County Executive Roger B. Hayden as the newest technique in community policing and crime prevention, putting high-ranking officers closer to the community.
Though Sheridan has insisted he is not abandoning community policing, he has made clear that enforcement is a priority. He also has taken officers assigned to community policing units and used them to tackle robberies and other problems in the county.
To get more for the department's money, the chief has looked closely at the level of brass needed to manage the precincts.
The department's 13 majors make between $64,291 and $70,879, depending on seniority. Starting salary for a patrol officer is $25,880. The theory is that the department could get two or more patrol officers for the price of one major.
"There is nothing that beats a police officer out on the street deterring crime," said Sheridan, citing the dropping homicide rate in New York City, which has hired about 7,000 police officers in seven years.
Baltimore County has a lower crime rate than New York, but county officials have authorized funding for only 194 additional positions in the past 4 1/2 years -- a smaller proportional increase than in New York, Sheridan said.
If the chief combines management of other precincts, he must reassign the two majors who would be left without commands.
When he combined the Dundalk and Essex precincts in July, Sheridan found a home for Essex commander Major Thomas Canning as administrative hearing officer. Last month, Major Linda Burleson, former commander of the Cockeysville Precinct, was transferred to a major's position in the Technical Services Division at police headquarters. Her position at Cockeysville has not been filled.
The daily precinct operations in Dundalk and Essex are being handled by captains, both overseen by Major Michael K. McCleese, the Eastern Area commander.
Three of the majors in the department have put in the minimum 20 years needed to retire with a pension.
"It is a question that is raised daily," Sheridan said. "If all of the majors retired tomorrow, would I replace all of them? Maybe not."
Fraser, who has developed management structures for police departments, said leaders can be shifted successfully if their skills are taken into account and they are given meaningful positions.
"It has to be done carefully," he said. "I've seen problems with this sort of thing in departments where they have transferred people into organizational Siberia until they finally retire."
At the Essex and Dundalk precincts, the combined management system seems to be working well.
McCleese, the Eastern District commander, said the arrangement has eased territorial friction from having separate commanders at nearby precincts that experience similar crime problems.
"I have two top-quality captains working at the precincts, and TC can make the final decisions," he said.
He said the change also benefits officers who, under the old system, answered to two bosses -- a captain and a major.
"And that sometimes caused friction," McCleese said. "Not knowing who the boss is is a problem."
Leaders from community groups in the area said they have hardly noticed the change.
J. Edwin Myers, president of the North Point Police Community Relations Council, said McCleese remains accessible.
"As far as I'm concerned, it has made no difference," he said. "If he is not at one precinct, I can find him at the other."
And Mary Poleman, president of the Towson Police Community Relations Council, said, "If it means more officers, we could certainly try this and see how it would work."
Pub Date: 1/13/97