City police under review

O'Malley plans to hire consultants who compiled grim report

November 20, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Consultants expected to be hired to revamp Baltimore's police have started sifting through department files and have issued a scathing assessment of the force's leadership and crime-fighting strategies.

Mayor-elect Martin O'Malley, who takes office Dec. 7, applied to the Abell Foundation for a grant to pay the team headed by Jack Maple and John Linder more than $400,000 to study how the city's 3,188 officers do their jobs.

Before the study was launched this month, the team compiled a 35-page preliminary assessment of the department, titled "Dramatically Reducing Crime in Baltimore," which The Sun obtained this week.

Baltimore police sharply dispute parts of the report, which paints a bleak picture of the department. Though it underwent significant change under former Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, it is still struggling with a homicide rate that has made Baltimore one of the nation's deadliest cities.

"The Baltimore Police Department is dysfunctional in effect and to no small degree corrupt," the Linder/Maple group wrote in its proposal, which was designed to win a contract and written a month before O'Malley won the general election Nov. 2.

"The police have lost the trust of the citizenry they are mandated to serve," the report says, adding that it reflects a city government "riven by factionalism" that thwarts "collaborative efforts to redress urgent municipal problems."

Advocates of an assertive style of policing dubbed zero tolerance, Maple and Linder promised O'Malley a strategy to cut the 300-plus annual homicide count by more than one-third -- to under 200 -- by 2002.

The consultants are undertaking a top-to-bottom review of the department, to be completed Jan. 31, that will include a detailed audit of every crime report for the past year, focus groups with officers and an analysis of media stories dealing with police.

They also will play a role in O'Malley's selection of a police commissioner. A consultant has met with the committee that is sorting through names and will make a recommendation to O'Malley by inauguration day.

"Names of candidates for the position of police commissioner and of deputies to the commissioner will be submitted with an assessment of relative qualifications," Maple's proposal says.

City officials said they are cooperating fully with the Linder/Maple team and have prepared a detailed briefing on the department's operations. Two members of the consultant team have been at headquarters this week, studying budgets and record-keeping procedures.

Col. Bert Shirey, chief of the patrol bureau, said the department is open to them. But he took exception to the comments in the report about corruption.

"That's a bold statement for somebody who has only been here a brief period," Shirey said yesterday.

Linder, in his first public comments about his role, said yesterday that the reference to corruption in the report "was badly worded. What it should have said was that it is the perception of some of the people we interviewed. That is obviously something we have no firsthand knowledge of."

The consultant said that "Baltimore has tremendous assets" and that he feels most members of the force "want to do everything they can to provide public safety to the citizens. Whenever you have good commanders and police officers, you can have dramatic success, and I think they have that in Baltimore."

City police officials concede that something has to be done about violence. Statistics released this week show that while crime is down 10 percent, shootings are up, and homicides -- previously 33 below last year's pace -- have increased in the past two months and could again top 300.

"There is no good reason why Baltimore has to have so many homicides," Shirey said. "You've got to take the repeat offenders, the serial offenders, the gun violators, and put them away consistently, so the bad guys know what their fate will be when they violate the law."

The president of the police union, Officer Gary McLhinney, has met with some of the consultants and said he is "extremely impressed. We've been dysfunctional for about five years."

McLhinney said he is particularly anxious for the focus groups to convene; they will meet at the union hall in Hampden in the next several weeks. The union head said he has complained for years that morale among the front-line troops had reached bottom.

"It's the first time in my memory that people who actually do the job have been asked their opinion," he said.

Maple is a former New York transit police officer credited with revolutionizing modern policing by developing a computerized crime-mapping system that allows police to attack crimes by pinpointing where they most often occur.

He helped develop the zero-tolerance strategy -- in which police target minor infractions to help prevent more serious crime -- that is one factor noted in reducing crime in New York and other cities to 30-year lows.

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