Many Baltimore police detectives will soon move out of downtown headquarters and into the city's nine community-based station houses to boost sagging arrest rates and improve accountability.
Detective squads that now work out of the districts are being dismantled; and detectives who work out of headquarters are preparing to merge with their counterparts in the districts, where they can be held directly accountable by police commanders who deal closely with the public. Three area supervisors will be appointed to run the new operation -- each overseeing three districts.
Police said they hope the moves -- expected to be formally announced in the next several weeks -- turn around a poor arrest rate. Of particular concern is the arrest rate for nonfatal shootings, which had dipped below 30 percent three months ago.
"The whole point is to get more crooks in cuffs," said Col. Bert L. Shirey.
The city's new police commissioner, Ronald L. Daniel, did not return calls seeking comment. The city's detective bureau will be set up similar to New York City's, where Daniel's top deputy, Edward Norris, came from.
The changes also mean detectives at headquarters who investigate the most serious crimes, such as shootings, assaults that result in life-threatening injuries and burglaries in which more than $2,500 in property is taken, will work alongside detectives in the district-based Major Crimes Unit, and handle more incidents.
District-based detectives were asked on Monday to reapply for their positions so they can transfer to the Criminal Investigation Division. Officials said there is no guarantee that everyone will get the job they want.
Once a pool of detectives is established, they will be divided up and assigned throughout the city. Officials said that most who now work in districts will probably remain where they are, but will work with a different structure and under a different boss.
The names of those supervisors have not been released, but police union officials and department sources identified them as Lt. Jesse Oden, Lt. Laura Zuromski and Maj. Kathleen Patek.
Investigators who handle sex offenses, stolen cars, arson and homicides will remain at headquarters. A citywide drug unit designed to probe large-scale narcotics organizations also will remain centralized there.
As word filtered down to the districts on Monday, many officers were cautiously optimistic of the plans.
Officers say they think the program will succeed, but many said they liked being isolated from the bureaucracy and turmoil associated with headquarters. Others worried that programs they have developed, such as extensive crime-tracking computer databases, would be shoved aside.
District commanders said they backed the moves.
Under the current system, Maj. John L. Bergbower, the Southwestern District commander, said officers who attend community forums and bear the brunt of public hostility are often in the dark on incidents that occur in neighborhoods they are responsible for protecting.
"We had an information flow problem," the major said. "The people responsible for a case weren't available to answer your questions at the time you needed it."
Maj. Robert Biemiller, who heads the Northern District, said the plan will improve communication among patrol officers, detectives, citizens and supervisors.