Merger of police proposed in council Plan would move 600 other agency officers into city department

February 25, 1997|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Saying Baltimore needs an all-out assault on crime, a city councilman wants to unite the hundreds of officers who patrol schools, public housing, buses, trains and tunnels with the city police force.

With the mayor and police chief making plans to hire 300 additional officers, Councilman Martin O'Malley proposed a cheaper but controversial alternative last night: a merger of the more than 600 sworn officers who work for different city and state agencies.

O'Malley called for bringing officers under one command as a way to cut bureaucracy and better coordinate anti-crime strategies.

But his proposal, patterned after a police merger in New York City, drew mixed support in the council and was immediately dismissed as unworkable by the police commissioner. Several of O'Malley's colleagues downplayed it as the latest in a pile of resolutions the council has passed over the past few years while the violence continues unchecked.

"I'm a little tired of all the verbalizing and posturing," said Council Vice President Agnes Welch, who represents some of Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods on the west side. "Are we going to sit here every Monday and say how awful it is?"

Keiffer Mitchell, her colleague from West Baltimore's 4th District, agreed: "We need to start doing something in this body and take this crime issue more seriously than we are."

Their frustration was provoked partly by a grass-roots community group's demands to see the results of a council resolution of last year. Twenty members of Unity for Action rallied outside police headquarters and attended the council meeting to ask that residents be allowed to witness the destruction of confiscated guns and drugs.

The barbed exchanges came after the council confirmed its newest member, Rita R. Church, a community activist from Northeast Baltimore's 3rd District who succeeded Joan Carter Conway. Conway was appointed last month to the state Senate.

O'Malley, who also represents the 3rd District, said a merger would boost the city's 3,200-officer force and allow it to move ahead more swiftly with "zero tolerance," a police strategy that targets the smallest of nuisance crimes. New York achieved a "more efficient crime-fighting force" that reduced serious crime by uniting housing and transit officers in 1995 with the main police force, he said.

"It makes sense to have as much coordination as possible between the people on our side with guns and badges," he said.

As introduced, the proposal would result in more than 600 officers wearing the same uniforms as city police -- from the 120 who patrol public housing to 116 who work in schools and 120 who ride buses and trains for the Mass Transit Administration.

But it has little chance of approval by all the agencies. It would require a massive overhaul just for the payroll. For example, housing police are paid by the federal government while MTA officers are on the state payroll.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier had a curt retort: "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

It was the most blunt of his comments about O'Malley since the councilman demanded his resignation this month.

Frazier's spokesman, Sam Ringgold, later elaborated by listing several potential problems with a merger. Even though all the officers go through the same basic training, he said, different agencies have their own hiring standards. And the schools and buses still need to be patrolled.

But both O'Malley and his ally, Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, insisted the city should try to make better use of its police resources before spending millions to hire more officers.

"If [a merger] worked somewhere else, maybe it can work here as well," Bell said.

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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