Police pairs cause strain

Officer partnering leaves less time for moonlighting

`Give-and-take situation'

Security companies scramble to find eligible workers

July 02, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore police commissioner's recent order putting two officers in every patrol car is leaving other city agencies and private companies struggling to find off-duty officers to work security jobs.

Officers who once competed for opportunities to make extra money at city swimming pools or walking posts downtown are suddenly in short supply. The Police Department is paying them more to work longer hours at their jobs, leaving them little time for secondary employment.

Police officials acknowledge the problem, but defend the practice, saying curbing crime on city streets is their first and most important priority. "It's a give-and-take situation," said police spokeswoman Ragina C. Averella.

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris started the partner system at the beginning of June, saying two officers would feel safer while confronting criminals in the city's most dangerous neighborhoods. The short-staffed department is paying overtime to double the number of officers on the streets.

Many officers are eager to collect the sudden windfall of money, and are working up to 100 hours of overtime every two weeks. Norris said the program will be evaluated in a few months as officers get tired and the city runs out of money to pay them.

The cost is taking chunks out of the department's $210 million budget. In the first two weeks of June, before the partner system took effect, the patrol bureau spent $307,500 in overtime. In the first two weeks under the new policy, that expenditure jumped to $601,600.

Top police officials say it is money well spent to curtail crime and turn around an image that Baltimore - the second most violent city per capita in America - is an unsafe place to live, work and visit.

Tom Yeager, a former police major who heads security for the Downtown Partnership, which represents businesses, said the tradeoff is fine with him.

"Let's face it, Baltimore is known for having a very violent record," he said. "We have to attack that first so we can show the rest of the world that we are safe."

Yeager's group manages a program called Central City on Patrol, which was begun in 1998 by Orioles majority owner Peter G. Angelos. A group of businesses around the Angelos-owned Charles Center pays $100,000 a year to hire off-duty police officers to provide extra protection.

Before June, officers lined up for the jobs, for which they get paid time and a half for standing in front of buildings and providing peace of mind to pedestrians.

"The availability of those who wish to work it has dwindled," said Sgt. Craig Gentile, who manages the supplying of officers for downtown duty.

Some of the void is being filled with sergeants, who are not allowed to work overtime shifts paid by the city because they are considered management, but can do it for private companies.

Police noted the city pools as one example of a program that is having trouble finding extra-duty officers.

Annette Stenhouse, a spokeswoman for the Department of Recreation and Parks, declined to comment on the situation or the effect of not being able to fill the slots.

On Friday afternoon a police dispatcher issued what is becoming a daily plea for private extra troops, noting on the air that overtime slots are available this week- end. "There also are several vacancies for the Oriole game tomorrow," the dispatcher said.

But Lt. Ed Glacken, who runs the Camden Yards unit, said he has a list of 100 officers, complete with home and pager numbers, who are willing to work at a ballgame if needed. Typically, 50 officers paid for by the Orioles work each game.

"I have no problem," Glacken said. "It's a good job down here. Officers are saying they are working two extra shifts, and they are bragging about all the money they are making."

Jim Slusser, director of security for the Maryland Stadium Authority, said he also has not seen a problem. "Coming to Camden Yards is a great experience anyway," he said.

That doesn't hold true with some of the less glamorous assignments, such as foot patrols on downtown streets.

Gentile noted that fighting crime on city streets is why officers are hired in the first place. Filling patrol cars with people needs to come first.

"Secondary employment is just that, secondary to your primary responsibility," the sergeant said. "Everybody knows that."

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