UM team to review city shooting figures Schmoke moves to settle dispute with councilman

July 03, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

To settle the public safety dispute between a city councilman and the police chief, Baltimore has hired a University of Maryland team to audit two years of police reports on shootings.

The city will pay $10,000 for criminal justice Professor Charles Wellford and his students to spend six months at police headquarters combing shooting reports for 1993 and 1996, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday.

Schmoke's decision is the latest round in a battle between City Councilman Martin O'Malley and Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier over whether shootings have dropped nearly 60 percent, as police claimed.

Last year, Frazier claimed that shootings in the city had dropped nearly 60 percent since his arrival in February 1994.

In March, O'Malley accused Frazier of intentionally underreporting the later shooting figures to give the public a false sense that violent crime in Baltimore had dropped.

Frazier denied the allegations, calling the claims O'Malley's latest tactic in the disagreement between himself and the council over how the city should fight crime.

A two-month O'Malley audit, confirmed by The Sun, showed city police overreported shootings by 25 percent in 1993. Recent reviews of two months of 1996 statistics by O'Malley and The Sun show the city underreported shootings by up to 10 percent for that period.

Although police acknowledged the 1993 errors, blaming them on a computer glitch, the department has contended that a full audit of the two years will uphold its claim.

City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt began a partial audit in April at the request of the City Council. Schmoke, however, said the full-year audit by the UM team is needed to get an independent review from outside city government.

"If they count the shootings for those [years], I don't think anybody could then dispute them," Schmoke said.

Pratt said yesterday that she believes the money would be better spent expanding the current review. In April, Pratt and her auditors began comparing three months of police reports from 1993 and 1996, a review that is almost complete.

"Doing a full year, it could generate different results instead of a sampling," Pratt said. "But I doubt it."

O'Malley opposes hiring the university team, calling it a waste of money. The Northeast Baltimore councilman blames Frazier for the delay in determining the truth, accusing Police Department leaders of stonewalling his inquiry.

O'Malley has repeatedly used public record requests to retrieve shooting reports.

Police recently began billing O'Malley $10 for each report he requests to cover the cost of retrieving the documents. Pulling the records cost the department $20,000 in staff time each month, department leaders said. The department recently sent O'Malley a bill for $1,000 to cover 1996 records he requested.

"All of this could have been resolved months ago if the police would have cooperated," said O'Malley, a former prosecutor who serves as chairman of the council's Legislative Investigations Committee. "How many more people can we have look at it? What's missing in this whole thing is a cooperative police commissioner."

The Police Department countered O'Malley's accusation yesterday, saying that it asked O'Malley to meet with officials to discuss his findings and questions before he issued his public comments in March. The department complains that pulling records for O'Malley is beginning to cut into crime fighting.

Frazier said yesterday he welcomes the University of Maryland audit, which is expected to be completed by year end.

"Certainly, the department supports any independent auditors," said police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. "The department's shooting statistics have been open for public review and will continue to be open for public review."

Pub Date: 7/03/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.