New police recruiting proposed

Council leader backs $2 million campaign to fill city vacancies

May 31, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,SUN REPORTER

Arguing that a shortage of police officers is a major contributing factor to Baltimore's crime problem, City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake will propose today spending an additional $2 million in city reserve funds to launch a new recruitment drive to fill the ranks.

The proposal calls on Mayor Sheila Dixon's administration to use the $2 million from reserve funds to pay for public service announcements, banners and recruitment material geared toward high school graduates. Rawlings-Blake will also ask the state to contribute money to the city's effort.

Vacancies have been a persistent problem for the Police Department for years, in part because Baltimore offers less pay than many surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland. The Police Department has money in its budget to pay more than 3,100 sworn positions, but 140 of those are vacant, city officials said.

"When you go to community association meetings, everyone is saying the same thing: `We need to see more officers,'" said Rawlings-Blake, who is running for election this year. "When you're down in sworn strength, you become stuck in a pattern of chasing 911 calls."

Rawlings-Blake's proposal, which she is expected to officially unveil today, is the second time this year she has challenged Dixon -- who is generally considered an ally -- on crime. In April, Rawlings-Blake introduced a resolution asking city leaders to appear before the council to outline specific plans for reducing crime.

That request generated considerable attention at the time, but a hearing has not been scheduled. A Rawlings-Blake aide said the meeting will take place in June.

Rawlings-Blake plans to introduce the proposal as a nonbinding resolution in the City Council. If the resolution passed, it would be a strong statement of the council's position in an election year.

The plan proposes diverting $2 million from the city's $75 million reserve fund. An unspecified amount of money would also be sought from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention to help pay for the recruiting campaign.

Rawlings-Blake also is asking that 15 state troopers be assigned to a task force focused on locating wanted suspects.

Kristen M. Mahoney, executive director of the state's crime control office, said she is willing to discuss the recruiting idea with city officials.

Rawlings-Blake was elected president by council members in January to fill the vacancy left when Dixon became mayor. She will seek a full four-year term in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary, which for years has determined who will be elected to the position.

She faces opposition from two-term City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. and longtime neighborhood advocate Michael Sarbanes.

Her proposal comes as the number of homicides in Baltimore rose to 124 yesterday, significantly higher than the 111 recorded at this point a year ago.

Dixon said yesterday that her top public safety aides have been studying recruitment and that her administration plans to report its findings soon.

"Mayor Dixon is very interested in seeing the council president's plan, and she has been sharing with the council president some of the things that she and the police commissioner are doing to recruit officers," Dixon spokesman Anthony McCarthy said. "The mayor is especially interested if the president is talking about reallocation of funds. That has to be scrutinized very carefully."

Earlier this month, Dixon called another proposal to spend money from city reserves irresponsible. Without the mayor's approval, the City Council has virtually no power to add money to the city's budget or to spend from a reserve fund.

Baltimore police officials have organized recruitment drives in Philadelphia, Fort Benning, Ga., and New York in recent months, according to travel requests approved by the Board of Estimates. Last year, the department went on a weeklong recruiting mission to Puerto Rico, in part to find more Spanish-speaking officers.

Police have blamed understaffing for the department's high overtime in past years, which has become a recurring issue among council members.

A spokesman for the Police Department declined to comment on Rawlings-Blake's proposal. City Councilman James B. Kraft, who has supported having more officers on the street, said recruitment is one part of a larger solution.

"It's one more arrow in our quiver, so to speak," said Kraft, who was speaking generally on the issue because he had not reviewed Rawling-Blake's proposal. "Our immediate need is officers on the street."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

RESOLUTION

City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake will introduce a nonbinding resolution in the City Council in early June on police recruitment. Here are the highlights of the legislation:

Calls on the city to divert $2 million from reserve funds to produce public service announcements, banners and recruitment materials targeted toward high school graduates.

Requests the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention to issue a grant for recruitment.

Creates a task force focused on finding staff to monitor closed circuit television and running Police Athletic League centers.

Requests that 15 state troopers be assigned to the Warrant Apprehension Task Force, which locates wanted suspects.

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