Police rotation plan shelved

Balto. County panel to study chief's idea at 2 more precincts

May 02, 2001|By Tim Craig and David Nitkin | Tim Craig and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

In a victory for the police union, Baltimore County police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan has suspended plans to rearrange shifts at two precincts until a committee can study the issue.

Cole Weston, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 4, said yesterday he believes that all but ensures Sheridan's proposal, which would have required officers to change shifts every five days, will not be implemented.

Sheridan, Weston and County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger signed an agreement yesterday establishing the committee. The move came hours before members of the union, which represents 1,700 county officers, had threatened to speak out against the plan at last night's public hearing on the proposed county budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

"I think we are taking the right approach by taking a step back and taking a good hard look at the issues and the best way to address all these issues," Weston said.

Sheridan declined to comment. Police officials said last month that Sheridan was irritated that his proposal was challenged.

The chief's proposal would have changed the policy of assigning one group of officers to the overnight shift - usually 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. - at the Towson and North Point precincts. Instead, all officers and supervisors in those precincts would rotate among three shifts.

Sheridan wanted the new shift schedule - implemented at the Essex and Wilkens precincts two years ago - so that supervisors could better manage officers. With a permanent overnight shift, some officers on that shift do not see their supervisors for several days at a time.

Ruppersberger had requested about $250,000 in next year's budget to hire 11 supervisors to ensure proper oversight of the scheduling change. It's unclear what will happen to that money.

FOP officials and some County Council members opposed the plan, saying it would be detrimental to officers' health and would hurt morale.

The agreement that creates the committee came after Ruppersberger called on police officials and FOP leaders to seek a solution.

The new committee, composed of police, union and county officials, will begin work in a few weeks and decide whether current shift schedules need to be revised. Weston said the committee also will decide if the three-shift rotation at the Essex and Wilkens precincts should be changed back to one that includes a permanent midnight shift. Several supervisors and officers have left the Wilkens precinct because of the three-shift rotation, Weston said.

The hiring of 25 additional police officers, needed in part to support Sheridan's proposal, had been a key feature of the $1.8 billion budget Ruppersberger unveiled two weeks ago.

Ruppersberger proposed a 9.3 percent increase in the Police Department budget, from $114.2 million to $124.8 million. He also proposed a $10.5 million property tax cut, returning money to homeowners for the first time in seven years.

Some council members have said they would like to return even more money through tax cuts than the executive proposed, so Sheridan's decision could provide a convenient place to trim.

Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, said, "It suggests to me that we are going to save the taxpayers more money because there are new positions that are not needed.

"Once the executive opened the door on tax cuts, I expect the council will continue with that mindset," Kamenetz said.

Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat and a former police officer, said he was leaning toward keeping the money in the budget for additional police protection.

"I would prefer that it be put back into [police] positions on the street," he said.

Without a police presence, last night's budget hearing at Loch Raven High School was low-key and brief.

Twenty-six speakers attended. Twenty-one of them concentrated on education, urging the council not to cut money from schools.

"This year's school budget is well thought out, and aligned with the school system's goals," said Jan Thomas, a PTA Council member. "We ask you to fund this budget as requested. It's what our children deserve."

Mary Pat Kahle, the legislative chairwoman for the PTA Council, urged council members to resist the temptation to cut money expected to be saved by a pending administrative reorganization of the schools.

The county budget is scheduled for final adoption on May 29.

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