Boots On The Ground

Our View: Fifty New Officers Will Let Police Focus More On Where The Need Is Greatest

August 03, 2009

Ever since a string of violent, seemingly random attacks roiled the Inner Harbor and downtown area earlier this year, residents have been demanding a more visible police presence on the streets. Despite Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III's insistence that crime overall is down, people needed the reassurance of seeing his officers working their beats. The recent mass shooting at a cookout and apparent acts of retaliation have only made that need more dire.

That's why President Barack Obama's federal stimulus plan to give Baltimore $10 million to hire an additional 50 patrol officers is good news for city residents. Though the numbers may not seem like much on a 3,100-member force, the extra officers will boost the department's crime-fighting capacity and allow commanders greater flexibility to concentrate their resources on trouble spots without sacrificing public safety elsewhere.

The stimulus money will pay for the officers' salaries, training and equipment for the next two years. After that, the city has promised to pick up the tab for at least one more year. Presumably, by then the worst of the recession will be over, local revenues will have started to pick up again and the city will be able to afford the beefed-up force on its own.

Still, it's fair to ask whether 50 more cops will make much of a difference. For the department, it's the equivalent of two more shifts of 24 to 28 officers in a district. That means more boots on the ground to respond to changing crime patterns and sudden emergencies, such as last weekend's drug-related shootings on Ashland Avenue that left 12 people injured, including a pregnant woman and a 2-year-old child. Since then, Mr. Bealefeld has blanketed the area with uniformed patrol officers and undercover police to keep a lid on things.

Being able to deploy that kind of massive deterrent force without stripping the rest of the city of protection is one of the key goals of hiring more police. As for the relatively modest number of new officers, people tend to forget that the "thin blue line" really is thin, even in the best of times.

When things are going well, most people probably won't even notice the force has grown. But when real trouble threatens to spill out of control, having even a few dozen extra officers available will allow the department to deal more quickly and effectively with the situations that most threaten public safety.

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