City police shortages highlighted

Commissioner stresses a need for more recruits in all nine districts

April 12, 2006|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES | GUS G. SENTEMENTES,SUN REPORTER

The city's Northern police district needs another 30 patrol officers to fill its ranks. The Eastern and Southeastern districts are each short 21 officers. And the Northeastern needs another 20 officers.

Police officials disclosed figures at a hearing yesterday that showed that each of Baltimore's nine police districts is facing officer shortages that range as high as 18 percent.

With 130 empty spots for police officers and another 132 positions essentially on hold because of officers on medical leave, suspension or military deployment, some City Council members were questioning police officials yesterday to determine if the department is deploying officers effectively across the city.

"The numbers have decreased, and the history of that is important because there must be factors involved," Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents parts of the Northern and Northeastern districts, told Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm and other police officials.

Hamm talked about a difficult recruiting climate nationwide for police departments and said 111 recruits are expected to graduate from the city police academy this summer. But more recruits are needed, he told the public safety committee members.

"We need you to help us with our recruiting efforts," Hamm said, referring to the City Council. "We'd like to partner with you to have zero vacancies in 2006."

The department is authorized to employ about 3,200 officers but now has 2,992 -- with approximately half of them designated to patrol the streets, typically in uniform and in marked police cruisers. The rest work elsewhere, as part of the detective division, the organized crime division, special operations, the administrative bureau and in other capacities.

The department's struggle to fill spots comes as serious violent and property crimes across the city have increased 5 percent this year. In the Northern District -- which has the greatest disparity of authorized versus actual officer strength -- serious violent and property crimes have increased 12 percent during the first four months of this year, compared with the similar period last year, according to police figures. Many of the positions police officials are trying to fill were made vacant last year when the department forced about 160 injured officers, who were in light-duty positions, to retire. It was a move that was severely criticized by the city police union.

Deputy Commissioner Errol L. Dutton, head of the department's administrative bureau, said the department has hired 49 cadets over the past 12 months. Another 94 retired police officers have been hired under contract to help with administrative duties in the districts and at police headquarters, Dutton said.

The department's goal is to assemble several recruiting classes and hire more than 200 officers by the end of the year, Dutton said. On average, about 100 officers leave the department each year because of retirement or other reasons, he said.

Hamm told the three council members at the hearing that the department would reconsider how patrol officers are being posted throughout Baltimore as crime patterns have changed.

The last time the department revised its "posts" -- the geographic areas where officers are assigned to patrol in each district -- was in March 2004, Hamm said.

Councilman Robert W. Curran questioned police officials about what he described as an apparent disparity between the amount of taxpayer money spent on police patrol resources for his constituents in Northeast Baltimore and that spent for other areas.

"We're spending $11.85 per resident in [parts of] the Northeastern District, and it's five to six times that in the Central, Western and Eastern," Curran told police officials. "I just need to reverse that disparity." Paul Blair, president of the city Fraternal Order of Police union, said that the shortage in staffing has meant that officers in some districts have had to work forced overtime shifts, resulting in 12-hour days rather than the typical eight hours.

"When are the officers supposed to sleep?" Blair said. "And they wonder why officers miss court when they work them these long hours."

Blair said that for the department to entice more recruits, it needs to offer better pay and better work schedules.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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