Baltimore police answer questions about budget, suspensions

Police release written response to budget chair

May 19, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore police commanders preparing for a budget hearing last week weren't happy with the list of questions they got from the committee chair, believing that most had nothing to do with saving jobs.

"Let's talk about money," one top official implored before last Thursday's City Council hearing, after the list of questions had been leaked to a reporter.

Councilwoman Belinda Conaway did not remain silent. She opened the meeting with a blistering soliloquy, bluntly telling the silent police commissioner that her questions about race and discipline did indeed have everything to do with money.

Lawsuits alleging discrimination and unfair treatment in the department have and are costing the cash-strapped city millions "in unbudgeted revenue," and she wanted to know why. The force is rife with a "culture of disparity," she said, adding that she would "not be intimidated" by the police who made her list public and then criticized it as silly in a newspaper article.

City police still don't believe that the money paid out in lawsuits has anything to do with the $16 million they say they need to keep residents safe. Unless the City Council comes up with new revenue sources, police say, they will have to lay off hundreds of police officers and ground the helicopters.

But police commanders said they scrambled at the last minute to respond to Conaway's questions, and she asked only a handful of them at Thursday's public hearing. The complete Q&A list is posted on The Baltimore Sun's Crime Beat blog, but here are some interesting bits — and they are disconnected bits — of information culled from the Police Department's responses:

•Half of the department's command staff is minorities; none of them has been fired since 2008.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sustained complaints against four command members. Three have cases pending before that board. The EEOC investigates issues related to discrimination and disparate treatment.

•Of the roughly 3,100 sworn members of the department, 56.2 percent are minorities and 16.7 percent are female.

•As of last Thursday's hearing, 99 officers were on suspension with pay and nine were on suspension without pay. Half of those out with pay are out because of medical issues. Thirty of them are black and 28 are white. Of the nine out without pay, four are black and five are white.

The longest answer was to a question about what is called "Hicks Arrest and Control Training," in which officers learn how to confront and subdue suspects through a gradual escalation of force.

Police feel this training is crucial to reducing the number of police-involved shootings, and they pay for it through assets forfeited by drug dealers and other criminals. It costs $235,000 a year.

The shortest answer came to a broad question: "Does the Police Department have the technology to provide effective constituent services as well as locate and identify violent officers?"

Police responded: "Yes."

Conaway also asked how many "multi-use vehicles" police use.

Police responded: "We don't understand the term multi-use vehicle. The PD rents 21 SUVs."

Conaway said this week that she didn't like all the answers she got. She said she will ask for more details and clarifications on several points. The term "multi-use vehicle," she said, "is standard police vocabulary" used on forms she sees regarding the department's vehicular fleet.

The councilwoman also said she wants more details on the breakdown of minority officers and women, calling the answers to some of those questions too vague. Police had criticized her use of the word "constituents" for the public, arguing that's for politicians, not cops.

Conaway shot back in the interview: "I think the Police Department does have constituents. Everyone they deal with is not a criminal."

But for all the back and forth, both sides said the mini-war of words fought through the news media is now over.

"I appreciate them having the info and putting it out," Conaway said of the police. "I just want to make sure I get the information I need."

Some of the answers do beg for more information. Conaway said she will press to get it.

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