62 city officers laid off in cuts

Retirees enabled more on police force to patrol streets

June 17, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Police Department has issued pink slips to 62 retired officers who were rehired during the past three years as part of an effort to free desk-bound officers for street patrol.

Though city police received a $5 million budget boost June 10, department officials said it was not enough to avoid layoffs. City police are working with a $199 million budget for fiscal 2000 beginning July 1, a 2.6 percent increase from this year.

Department officials said commanders do not know whether the layoffs, which take effect July 1, will force officers off the street to fill the vacancies. But spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. said commanders will make every effort to keep up street strength.

"The goal is to keep officers in Baltimore's neighborhoods, and to put more in place," he said.

But Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier warned City Council members last month that the proposed budget, despite the increase, would result in cuts that could undo efforts he began three years ago to move 300 officers from behind desks and into squad cars. Frazier said in 1997 he had met that goal.

Weinhold said yesterday that the agency was able to keep 50 community service officers, who also help with administrative tasks but have no police background. The department could not retain the retired officers, who were hired on a year-to-year basis.

He said the layoffs -- which also include two civilian positions -- will save the department about $1 million, enough to avoid cutting other departments or personnel.

The retired officers perform jobs ranging from answering tip lines to distributing office furniture. Many perform tasks that can only be done by sworn law enforcement officials, such as transporting evidence consisting of illegal drugs, guns and large sums of money.

The hires were approved by the Board of Estimates as a way for the department to bolster its front-line crime fighting force and fill administrative jobs that typically went to full-time police officers.

City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., chairman of the Budget Appropriations Committee, said the commissioner could have saved money by reducing his command staff, something the councilman mentioned at a hearing last month.

D'Adamo, who sparred with Frazier over his spending plan, said he was outraged by the layoffs.

"There is plenty of money," he said. "Frazier needed to downsize the gold badges and do right by the citizens of Baltimore."

Frazier had defended the size of his command staff at last month's hearing and said it was smaller than the previous commissioner's. The police spokesman said the department had little leeway with the money that was allocated.

"We are guided by the budget," Weinhold said.

Officer Gary McLhinney, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said the layoffs will inevitably mean street officers will be pulled from patrol, "which is contrary to what we are trying to do."

McLhinney believes he has identified $2.5 million in overlooked funds -- money saved through retirements of high-ranking officers. The union head said he wants the City Council to revise the budget, which was signed by the mayor last week.

But Budget Director Edward J. Gallagher said the money discovered by the union had been "taken into consideration when we did the budget." The fiscal 2000 budget, with the cuts, will most likely stand. "It's part of every agency's slimming down," he said.

The first group of retired officers was rehired in 1996 after Frazier discovered that 41 percent of the city's then 3,100 officers did not have a direct crime-fighting role. Part-timers earned $12,000; full-timers earned $25,000; neither received benefits.

Police supervisors are scrambling to fill their positions -- including guarding the downtown police headquarters building -- without reaching into the patrol ranks, the backbone of the city's crime fighting force.

That might not be easy. Frazier told City Council members that losing four retired officers in the personnel division would "mandate the reassignment of a minimum of four police officers from uniformed street duties" to perform background checks.

Maj. George L. Klein, commander of the Southeastern District, is searching for a volunteer to replace a retired officer who sorted minor nuisance complaints and helped people get aid from city agencies. The job, he said, is needed.

"But I'm not going to pull a full-time police officer off the street to do it," he vowed.

Capt. Gary D'Addario, head of the property section, said he is losing nine retired officers. Though he has a staff of sworn officers and civilians that numbers 90, he said the retirees provided an invaluable service.

"We're all asking the same question. What are we going to do?" D'Addario said. "I do not take these cuts lightly. They enjoyed working here and we need them here."

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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