Police commissioner decries proposed cuts

Says crime fighting would be set back a decade

May 13, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III urged City Council members on Thursday to resist suggested budget cuts that he said would decimate his department and set back a decade of progress in reducing shootings and homicides.

During a 45 minute presentation, Bealefeld railed against a budget process that department heads have said largely froze him out and instead relied on recommendations from the finance department.

Bealefeld said the cuts were not grounded in reality, would violate a union contract, would devastate patrol operations and could prompt an exodus of officers and detectives beyond the 300 or so he estimated could be laid off.

He noted that his department has cut overtime by $13 million since 2007 — from $31.6 million to $14.2 million, a 43 percent drop — and still reduced homicides to a three-decade low and dropped other crimes by greater amounts.

Baltimore is facing a $121 million shortfall in its $2.2 billion budget and has proposed deep cuts in all agencies. Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake is asking the City Council to approve a $50 million package of new fees and taxes that would wipe out the proposed police cuts and steer money to other departments.

Many officials believe the tax package will pass, meaning the police department would keep its staffing levels, and helicopter, marine and horse units. Still, Bealfeld and other department heads are mounting vigorous defenses to show why proposed cuts would be damaging.

City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector ended the nearly two-hour budget session by say leaders have no choice but to find the $16 million that city police need to maintain current operations. "We're going to have to bite the bullet and find more revenue," she said.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke criticized the budget process, and asked Andrew W. Klein, a city finance official, who devised the proposed cuts.

Bealefeld shook his head no. Klein answered, "the results team." He noted that because police and fire are considered sacrosanct, they faced only 3 percent cuts while other departments, such parks and recreation, are facing 8 percent cuts.

"Fire and police are the priority," he said. "But they can't be the only priority."

Klein said the proposed police cuts "protects" patrol officers because the recommendations were to cut from specialized units, such as aviation, SWAT, traffic enforcement and detective squads. His projections would abolish 193 police positions.

But Bealefeld put the number of losses higher, between 250 and 300, because the union contract bars commanders from picking and choosing who gets laid off. "Last in, first out," he said, explaining that officers with the least seniority get fired first.

And those aren't detectives or officers in SWAT and aviation. "Those are patrol officers, the ones in your neighborhoods." And because they make less than their more senior colleagues, more would have to be fired to save the same amount of money. He added that a proposal to lay off 50 contractual workers would also backfire because sworn officers would have to be taken off the street to replace them.

Belinda Conaway, the chairwoman of the budget committee, also lashed out at Klein, saying, "So it just looks good on paper that we've saved money because in reality this can't come to pass."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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