10-hour shifts please officers

Crime in NE drops

Bealefeld is reluctant to expand program

July 05, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,Sun reporter

A committee of city police commanders and union representatives has recommended expanding a pilot program in which officers work four 10-hour shifts every week, a system they credit with reducing crime in the Northeastern District, according to a report obtained by The Sun.

The new schedule, in place there since November 2007, puts Northeastern officers on the streets four days and then off three.

The arrangement is popular with the police rank and file, who typically work six days straight in eight-hour shifts.

The command staff also likes the arrangement, according to the report, because it creates a "power shift" in which two shifts overlap for about five hours from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. - a time when many crimes are committed.

"It is one of the best things that has happened to the Police Department in the last 40 years," said Paul Blair, the president of the police union, who is lobbying to expand the new schedule.

"The troops loved it right away. They saw a difference. The citizens were happy, they were noticing more police."

Crime in the Northeast tracks citywide decreases - this year, homicides there have dropped 23 percent and nonfatal shootings have decreased 66 percent. A survey conducted by the police union found that 100 percent of the officers questioned preferred the new shift over the old one.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III has received a copy of the committee's report but has reservations about expanding the program to other districts, said his spokesman, Sterling Clifford.

"It is a long way from being a done deal because it will be resource-intensive," said Clifford, who is also a spokesman for the mayor's office. "We have to figure out what it will cost in terms of man-hours and equipment."

Other City Hall officials declined to comment. The report does not include a detailed cost analysis of the proposal, but it is clear that the new schedule requires additional officers.

Union leaders said the city should find the money to expand the program.

"We have money for everything else," Blair said. "We have money for training. We were able to form a bigger violent crime-impact division. Why don't we have money for the men and women who are on the streets? They are the reasons that homicides are down by 50. You need to do something to boost the morale of the troops when you can't give them pay raises."

He added: "What was the use of having the group do the work and do the study if you are not going to go forward?"

Blair said that he boycotted the commissioner's recent confirmation hearing because he is so upset about Bealefeld's reluctance to embrace the plan.

A group of 10 Police Department leaders - including Chief of Patrol Col. John Skinner, who is one of the commissioner's close advisers - studied the experimental arrangement and completed the nine-page report in May.

They concluded that the new schedule "has had a significant impact on the District's ability to operationally address crime patterns. ... As a result of this impact the Northeast District continues to achieve notable and significant reductions in crime." The report says the system has "greatly improved the working conditions and quality of life of the officers."

The report recommends that the police expand the new schedule to a second police district to "create a foundation of planning for implementation citywide."

The new report is the second evaluation of the program. The first, in February, took place as the district was seeing a 28 percent increase in robberies and a 30 percent increase in violent crime, according to the report. But in the new report, committee members concluded that the spike in crime then was due to instability in the command structure.

Clifford credited other continuing police operations in the Northeastern District for the recent drop in crime. He declined to specify what those operations are.

Mike Hilliard, a former police major and community leader, said he supports the new plan particularly because of the five-hour period in which two shifts overlap. He said that gives commanders more resources to suppress crime.

"Maj. [Delmar] Dickson has done some smart things with that power shift," he said, referring to the Northeastern District commander. "The crime reduction you are seeing is real. The reason it is happening is they are involving the community and they are deploying smartly."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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