City police respond to rise in crime

About 70 officers to move from desk duty to patrol

October 10, 2006|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,sun reporter

With violent crime in several city neighborhoods taking a turn for the worse in recent weeks, Baltimore police said yesterday they were shifting about 70 officers from desk duty and into patrol cars to try to curtail shootings, robberies and homicides.

Flare-ups in crime have occurred across the city, but have spiked mainly in neighborhoods in the eastern, southern and northwestern parts of Baltimore. Shootouts and vendettas between rival drug gangs, turf wars between budding Bloods gang sects and robberies, some as part of gang initiations, have fueled the violence, according to police.

Marcus Brown, deputy commissioner of operations for the Baltimore Police Department, said the extra-duty officers will be spread fairly evenly across the districts, with some areas possibly getting a few more than others, depending on their needs.

"Each time we have a crime spike, we want to make sure we're doing the most we can to put the cops out on the street," Brown said. About a recent spate of shootings, he said: "In many cases, there is a single target, but there are innocent victims [who have been shot]. These victims are not in the drug game."

Violent crime in Baltimore has declined over the past several years and, across the city as of Sept. 30, is 6 percent lower than last year, according to city police statistics. Total crime is down 3 percent this year, statistics show.

But shootings are up 11 percent and robberies have risen 8 percent over last year. And the pace of slayings has quickened during past year. As of yesterday, the city had recorded 216 homicides, compared with 208 for the same period last year.

The Eastern District has seen a 30 percent increase in homicides. The Southern District has had a 9 percent increase in shootings and a 17 percent increase in killings. The Northwestern District has had a 62 percent spike in shootings, a 12 percent increase in robberies and 24 percent in slayings.

Earlier this year, police officials faced criticism from the community and some city leaders that its patrol division was short of officers. Some elected officials have said they worry that the department has placed too much emphasis on specialized units, and not enough on uniformed officers in marked cars responding to emergency calls.

"While they're moving in the right direction to provide more support in a depleted patrol unit across the districts, they've got to come to a realization that they need to analyze the specialized units," said Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., who has frequently called attention to police deployment issues.

Flooding the streets with more officers from desk jobs is not a new tactic in Baltimore. For years, the Police Department has undertaken such temporary initiatives to help reverse crime trends. In this latest measure, the additional officers are slated to stay in the patrol force for 30 days.

Typically, such initiatives come during the summer or near the end of the year, as police work to improve year-end crime statistics.

Brown said that this latest deployment is about "getting extra police out there."

Paul M. Blair Jr., president of the city Fraternal Order of Police union, said he had "no argument" with the decision to contribute more officers from other parts of the department to the patrol ranks. But he said the department needs to do a better job of keeping patrol fully staffed in the long term - and keeping up with the pace of hiring and attrition.

"We've just never been able to keep up the hiring pace, and this shortage is reflected in the patrol division," Blair said. "We're constantly short. Our officers are having trouble getting a day off."

Blair said the department's ranks have been depleted by its officers' commitments to the nation's armed forces. He said about 30 officers are on military leave from the department. Another 20 officers recently quit or retired to join the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, which was more than offset by the recent graduation of a police academy class.

Brown estimated that the department remains short more than 100 officers, from its official capacity of 3,200.

He said about two-thirds of the officers being temporarily shifted into patrol duties were being detailed from the department's Administrative Bureau, which oversees a broad range of responsibilities, from recruiting and personnel to finance and central records.

The rest were deployed from office positions within the Operations Bureau, the department's law enforcement arm.

Brown said the decision to deploy more officers into the patrol division was made last week by police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm. Police have grown concerned about recent shootings where people were struck by gunfire who were not the intended targets, such as a triple shooting of a teenage boy and two women outside a Cherry Hill carryout last week. The boy was the target.

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