Report seeks policing changes

Annapolis' resources should focus more on public housing

June 17, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun Reporter

The city of Annapolis should devote more resources to policing its troubled public housing communities, including creating a dedicated team of officers, stepping up traffic enforcement and broadening the Police Department's authority to allow officers to ban trespassers, according to a report presented last night to city officials.

The $60,000 study prepared by the consulting group ICMA calls for a sustained - and drastically different - approach to fighting crime in the 10 federally controlled public housing complexes. Most of the six homicides in the state capital this year, which have put the city on track to far exceed last year's record of eight, have taken place in public or low-income private housing.

Interim police Chief Michael Pristoop, a former Baltimore police commander who took over as consultants were finishing their review of the department, said many of the report's 12 recommendations are already in the works, including a memorandum of understanding with the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis that would give the city more responsibility over law enforcement on its properties.

The agreement is part of a larger effort to deploy officers to problematic areas throughout the city, officials said.

"It is a big shift. We basically have reorganized in a different way to be able to be more effective in the hot spot areas, which are pretty well identified," said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who called the report a starting point for a "thorough and open discussion."

Former police Chief Joseph S. Johnson, who stepped down this spring after nearly 14 years, had said that all of the city's neighborhoods were entitled to equal policing, despite statistics that showed violent crimes tended to cluster around the public and private, low-income housing.

City and housing authority officials have squabbled for years over who should shoulder the burden of policing public housing, with Moyer criticizing the housing authority last summer for failing to spend nearly a third of the $200,000 allocated by the city for public safety. In August, she called for a new partnership to better manage the agency's operations and said the authority should install surveillance cameras and assign undercover officers.

The mayor, whose second and final four-year term ends in 2009, appears to be acting on those statements. For next year's budget, she rescinded the $200,000 fund, which the housing authority had previously used in part to hire off-duty officers to work as private security. The money will instead be spent on beefing up city police operations on housing authority properties. The budget also sets aside $500,000 for security cameras in high-crime areas.

City and housing authority officials who have sparred with Moyer were receptive to the ideas put forward yesterday.

Eric Brown, executive director of the housing authority, called the recommendations "very appealing" and said he was excited about the prospect of officers dedicated to public housing and under the agency's purview.

Alderman David Cordle, chairman of the city council's public safety committee and an investigator with the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, said the targeted approach makes the most sense: "When you go fishing, you go where the fish are."

"This is what we've been asking for," added Trudy McFall, the housing authority's former executive director and founder of Citizens for a Better Annapolis.

The study, which was launched last fall, also recommends adding a two-member mounted unit - another Moyer recommendation from last year - improving technology, and establishing a baseline of 117 sworn officers.

Officials said they are hopeful that they are laying the groundwork for long-term safety improvements. In February, state officials announced that Annapolis would be the recipient of an unprecedented crime-prevention initiative called Capital City Safe Streets, which has brought together resources with hopes that it could become a model for the state.

"We believe there is a cultural change occurring at the [Annapolis] Police Department," said Leonard A. Matarese, director of public safety services for consultanting group ICMA.

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