The Baltimore Police Department would eliminate its mounted unit, cut back on helicopter patrols, and halve the number of Police Athletic League centers under a proposed budget outlined by Commissioner Kevin P. Clark yesterday.
Appearing at a City Council budget hearing, Clark said he had to make some "very difficult decisions," including the elimination of 186 sworn positions, as he assembled a $245 million spending plan. The proposal represents about a 1 percent reduction over the current budget, which has been overspent by about $9 million, mostly due to overtime.
By targeting specialized units and services, the department would be able to maintain current patrol levels, Clark said. But he also said the cuts would set back the cause of crime-fighting in one of America's most violent cities.
"It will be very difficult to continue progress," said Clark.
City officials have expressed hope that police and other departments will not have to make the drastic cuts called for under Mayor Martin O'Malley's $2.1 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The plan calls for eliminating more than 500 municipal jobs and reducing or eliminating some city services such as recycling.
O'Malley is proposing $40 million in new taxes and fees on such things as cellular phones, energy use and real estate purchases. Council members have voiced objections to the proposed taxes, but some also made it clear last night that they would like to give Clark more money.
The council wanted to know if there may be less painful cuts to be made.
Council President Sheila Dixon said she had heard rumors of "sweetheart deals" for officers who are on light duty because of on-the-job injuries. She suggested laying off those officers. But under union contracts, any layoffs have to be done by seniority, police officials explained.
Dan Fickus, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, took exception to Dixon's comment.
"There's no sweetheart deal having a police officer shot, maimed, stabbed," he said. "We have a moral responsibility to take care of" injured officers.
Under Clark's proposal, nine of 18 PAL centers would close, saving $750,000. The elimination of mounted police, now at six horses from a high of 24, would save $350,000. Reducing helicopter patrols by a third to 2,400 hours would save another $400,000.