City police seek community help recruiting officers

Mayor, chief launch Hometown Heroes Project

April 14, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore's mayor and police commissioner are seeking help from city residents to recruit new applicants to the city's 3,100-member police force, which is trying to attract up to 450 new officers over the next several months.

On Thursday, the officials on Thursday unveiled the Hometown Heroes Project, a new initiative to reach out to Baltimore residents. The department has often been criticized because many of its officers live in outlying suburbs.

"It's a way for someone to give back to their community while making Baltimore a safer place," Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake said a news conference at police headquarters. Residents who sign up will be trained in the recruiting process and procedures.

Despite back-to-back years with budget shortfalls, including a $121 million deficit last year, Rawlings-Blake promised to hire hundreds of new officers. The police union, which is battling the city over rising pension contributions and salary cuts, has said the department can't keep up with attrition rates.

The mayor promised the new officers last year after Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III complained on a Maryland Public Television appearance that he couldn't hire officers fast enough to cover for the ones leaving.

"We're operating at very conservative staffing levels across all the units," he said on the show. "The gap is only going to widen." Union officials blamed the accelerated departures on the fight over officers' pensions; city officials denied that the two issues were linked.

City officials have long struggled to find qualified men and women for the department, sometimes reviewing several hundred applications to fill a single academy class of 40 to 60 hires. At Thursday's news conference, the mayor said that despite sharp budget cuts that have hit virtually every single agency, historic crime drops seen over the past two to three years can't be continued while losing police officers.

"When we go to community meetings, no one is asking us for fewer patrol officers or for a smaller Police Department," Rawlings-Blake said. "We know the reduction in crime over the past decade cannot be sustained with a smaller police force."

Bealefeld spoke of attracting both new officers and younger cadets, explaining that he started his police career in 1981 as a 19-year-old cadet working the midnight shift "hot desk," where he checked warrants and used magnifying glasses to compare fingerprints of newly arrested suspects to a master list. He also took fingerprints from corpses at the morgue.

"It's now what could be considered CSI-like, minus the technology," said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

Bealefeld said that being an officer "is not about car chases. ... What you do every day is help people to be safe, and help people across the city make their lives better. You can't get that experience through a recruitment poster. You really have to live that. ... What we really need are people who are dedicated to service."

Anyone interested in the program is urged to call the Baltimore Police Department recruitment section at 410-396-2340 or visit the department's website.

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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