Moyer offers police shift changes to fight crime

Annapolis mayor also suggested a mounted officer, Segway scooters

August 19, 2007|By Kimberly Marselas | Kimberly Marselas,Special to The Sun

Returning to Annapolis amid criticism about a recent spate of crime, Mayor Ellen O. Moyer is calling for new hours for police officers and patrols with elements of the city's Colonial past and the future: a mounted officer and more Segway scooters.

While some of the five strategies she outlined last week -- such as turning on porch lights -- are essentially common-sense suggestions, others have previously been met with resistance and will require the cooperation of an understaffed Police Department, Annapolis Housing Authority officials and the state legislature.

"There is no single bullet," said Moyer, who returned Wednesday from a six-week trip through Europe. "There are any number of ways to address crime, and we're working on all of them."

Despite several high-profile robberies and numerous thefts from cars and homes in the past month, Moyer said city crime was down 6 percent in the first six months of 2007.

In the biggest change sought, Moyer asked Annapolis Police Department Chief Joseph S. Johnson to reduce the number of shifts a day from five to three, which would increase the number of officers on duty.

Johnson was unavailable to provide details on Friday, but Capt. Wayne Darrell, a spokesman, said the new shift schedule will probably be implemented in early 2008. He said rank-and-file officers support the change, which retains overlapping shifts during the peak overnight crime period.

"We're going to get beyond minimal staffing," Darrell said. "The numbers aren't going to change a lot at first because we're short, but we're going to be putting more corporals and sergeants on the streets, too."

The department is down about 18 to 20 officers, Darrell said, and the union has complained this summer about being overworked and what it calls the city's lackluster recruitment efforts.

"This is about working with what we have," Moyer said. "It's very nice to talk about wanting more, more, more ... and it's very nice to talk about recruitment, but there's no [immediate] training available."

Moyer wants the Police Department to add four Segway motorized scooters to its fleet of two and determine whether a horseback unit would be feasible, saying that both tools would increase visibility and allow officers to cover greater distances.

She acknowledged, however, that Johnson has in the past opposed buying a horse for the Annapolis force. It is unclear how much purchasing and boarding a horse and training a mounted officer might cost, but Moyer has asked Johnson to consider including it in his 2009 budget. One Segway model costs about $5,600.

Among Moyer's other proposals: asking residents to turn on outdoor lights and notify the city of dark, dangerous areas to be addressed by public works crews or BGE; and reviving the effort to have the entire city declared a drug-free zone. The designation would double fines and penalties for anyone convicted of selling drugs in Annapolis. A similar push to create zones around the city's community and recreation centers failed in the state legislature last session, despite unanimous support from the county delegation.

Residents, particularly those in the Clay Street area, support the legislative effort, said Trudy McFall, who retired this spring as chairwoman of the Annapolis Housing Authority board of commissioners, which oversees the city's 10 public housing communities.

"We've never been able to quite get it across the finish line in the legislature before," she said. "I think with the full support of the city, we might get there."

Moyer's plan also calls on the housing authority to evaluate and report on its policing efforts. The mayor said she has "never seen an accounting" from the agency on how it spends $200,000 in city funds set aside for policing.

McFall said Moyer's claim is not true and noted the board presented the mayor with its books monthly. She said the reports included hours worked by city police as secondary officers for public housing, the amount paid to them, the numbers of arrests, as well as ongoing issues and goals.

McFall said she is also concerned that changing police department shifts could lead officers to quit their jobs moonlighting for the authority.

"These are policemen who are already being pushed pretty hard to do overtime in their regular jobs," she said.

Moyer said she expected the authority to turn to other hiring sources, including private security forces or retired law enforcement officers, if necessary.

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