To get job done, police dig into their own pockets

BALTIMORE CRIME BEAT

December 12, 2008|By PETER HERMANN | PETER HERMANN,peter.hermann@baltsun.com

The cops got a 3 percent raise.

The mayor got a 2 1/2 percent raise.

Seems fair.

I don't mind an extra $3,700 in Sheila Dixon's pocket, or the raises for the comptroller, the City Council president and other lawmakers. And I won't even discuss how they hid their vote using arcane job classification codes.

What is astounding is that they gave themselves raises while ordering millions of dollars in budget cuts from the Police Department, including slashing overtime, even as a spate of killings made November the deadliest month of the year. Yesterday, in a public relations epiphany, and only after her slightly more astute colleagues had already done so, the mayor jumped on the bandwagon and agreed to donate her raise to charity.

As Dixon tries to recover from her act of political malpractice, city police officers in the robbery unit are digging into their own pockets to pay for an Internet site to showcase suspects wanted in holdups. The cops spend $115 a year to license the site and put up video clips from surveillance cameras to help track down armed thugs and close some of the roughly 3,500 armed robberies in the city each year.

And that's just the beginning.

Some detectives bring their own color computer printers to work so they can have mug shots for lineups. Many use their own laptops and cell phones. The department provides uniforms, but officers have to clean them. And simply throwing them into the washing machine won't do unless you want to stand out at inspection.

"Try to wash your pants and they end up looking really nasty," said Officer Nicole Monroe, a police spokeswoman who did her time on the street. "For some reason, the stripe that goes down the side shrinks but the pants don't. So they don't hang right and they start to fade and they don't have that sharp look to them. It's best that you send them to the dry cleaner."

And writing reports in a car is nearly impossible without a clipboard, another item that isn't standard issue.

"It's unprofessional of me to hand you something that's all crumpled up," said Monroe, who read off a list of items she bought from Staples, including index-card-size spiral notebooks, when she was in patrol.

You can argue that all these items are not absolutely necessary and that tax dollars for clipboards can be better spent elsewhere. Workers at nearly every job spend their own money on things to make their days a little easier and a little more comfortable, be it a favorite pen or a spiffy briefcase. Teachers routinely buy supplies that their cash-strapped schools can't afford.

Sam Walters, a retired officer who runs the Cop Shop, a police supply store in Baltimore, said most extras that officers buy are items that "no agency is going to fund" and that his customers understand the city has no money to buy extra pairs of pants and shoes.

Yes, the mayor is right when, in initially defending her raise, said she works hard, supports a family, has a daughter in college and sacrifices a lot for this city. But so have other civil servants, such as the cops who care enough to buy their own clipboards to make their reports presentable, pay for their own dry cleaning so their pants don't wrinkle, and fund their own Web site so armed robbers can be caught.

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