Staff shortage leads city police to dismantle year-old program

Strategy gave lieutenants more discretion, duties

January 25, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A year-old Baltimore police program that made midlevel managers accountable for crime and community relations is being dismantled this week because poor resources made proper implementation impossible.

Under the department's "sector management" plan, lieutenants were assigned geographic beats and held responsible for anything that happened there 24 hours a day.

In return, they were supposed to have discretion over officer deployment and money. Twenty-eight lieutenants were given patrol cars to take home so they could quickly respond to incidents.

But Col. Bert L. Shirey, chief of the patrol bureau, said lieutenants never got enough officers to fulfill their mandates because each district is about 20 percent to 30 percent below strength.

"We were unable to give them the resources to do everything they were expected to do," Shirey said. "Staffing levels in the districts [have] been inadequate for a while. There was a split of opinion as to whether or not [the program] was doing what it intended. Some of the district commanders liked it and felt it was very effective. Some felt it wasn't."

Then-Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier began sector management departmentwide last January. "You want your decision-making authority at the closest point of execution as you get it," he said then. "The point of execution is in a patrol car."

Many lieutenants relished the opportunity to act as minichiefs, and community leaders liked the idea of having one officer in constant touch with their concerns.

But sector managers were not always available, and Shirey said beat officers were sometimes unsure who was in charge: the lieutenant who oversaw a particular neighborhood or the lieutenant who oversaw the shift.

Officer Gary McLhinney, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3, called the decision sound. "The rank and file didn't like it," he said. "The concept might have been good, but in practicality, it didn't work."

Lieutenants will return to being in charge of one area of a district per eight-hour shift. They will no longer be allowed to take patrol cars home.

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