Violent crime is down 15 percent in Baltimore, but the Police Department is projecting a $10 million deficit for the year brought on by overtime costs and increased police presence for events such as OpSail 2000 and major conventions, Commissioner Edward T. Norris said yesterday.
Norris, who gave a presentation before the City Council's Public Safety Committee, said 237 homicides have been reported in the city this year, compared with 253 at this time last year.
Reducing homicides to less than 300 for the year has been a major goal for the Police Department. Mayor Martin O'Malley campaigned on reducing crime and vowed to get the number of homicides in Baltimore below 300 for the first time in 10 years.
Yesterday's hearing was part of a continuing series of reviews by the council of city agencies. Council members asked questions ranging from the workings of the Internal Affairs Division to rumors that Norris had created numerous high-ranking positions and filled them with people from New York City.
"I've heard that I've hired 15 to 20 majors from New York City," said Norris, who was a commander with the New York Police Department before he came to Baltimore. "The actual total number of people I've hired from New York City is three."
Norris said overall crime is down 11 percent, nonfatal shootings 26 percent and aggravated assaults 15 percent.
The downward trend in homicides was evident in this month's numbers, with seven homicides being recorded so far as opposed to 36 homicides in November last year.
The department's increased effort in the Eastern District, the highest crime area last year, is one reason for the lower crime rate, Norris said.
The department also beefed up its arrest warrants unit and sent detectives to work out of the district station houses, rather than downtown.
"That's been a reason for our great success," said Norris, who also credited public involvement. "Make no mistake about it, we did not do this by ourselves. We've had tremendous support from the citizens of this city."
Though the crime statistics were well received, Council President Sheila Dixon said she was concerned about the department's projected deficit. The city's tight finances are a deep concern for the council and the O'Malley administration.
The city has a projected $59 million deficit over the next three years. Balancing the budget and increasing revenue are vital to O'Malley's plans for his mayoral term.
Dixon asked Norris if state police could be brought in to help with conventions and other events that drain the department's overtime budget.
"I don't want to see other people suffer and get pink slips because of one department," said Dixon, noting "the wonderful raise that police officers received."
Councilwoman Lisa J. Stancil asked what the department was doing to reduce the number of police-involved traffic accidents.
Four officers have died in crashes this year.
Deputy Commissioner Bert L. Shirey said he hopes driver-safety programs being put in place will reduce the number of accidents by 25 percent next year . Shirey also said the probable return of police helicopters next year could cut the accident rate.
Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr., who noted that crime was down in the area surrounding his church in Harlem Park, said he was pleased with Norris' efforts.
"There's still room for improvement," he said. "Some giant steps have been made, but I've got my fingers crossed."