Council president wants answers on Baltimore police plan

  • Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts responded to Sunday's homicide in the 1300 block of N Longwood St.
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts responded to Sunday's… (Photo by Justin George /…)
November 18, 2013|By Justin Fenton, Justin George and Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

Kennard Buckner, 22, was walking out of an alley just feet from his home in Southwestern Baltimore on Sunday morning when he was killed by a gunman in a hail of bullets, police said.

An officer two blocks away from the shooting in the 1300 block of Longwood Street arrived at the scene within a minute, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said, but paramedics couldn't save the man.

It was the city's fourth homicide of the weekend and its 29th murder victim in the past 30 days.

As Baltimore's homicide rate continues to rise — 210 people have been killed this year, compared to 194 at this time last year — City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young wants to know why a consultant's strategic plan for the Baltimore Police Department has yet to materialize.

Seven months ago, the city awarded a $285,000 contract to a Massachusetts-based consulting firm to come up with a plan to revamp the Police Department, with a mandate to complete the project within 90 days.

"The Police Department has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on pricey consultants who were paid to discover inefficiencies with staff deployments and suggest improvements to help reduce crime and cut costs," Young said in a statement. "To date, we're still waiting on answers and crime continues to spike."

Young is calling on Batts to testify before the City Council and address what Young calls a "staffing shortage" that he says has been exacerbated by "inefficient deployments" and a "high number of officers suspended with pay."

The rising homicide number weighs heavily on the department, Batts said Sunday night. He emphasized he expects the report will be "a map over the next five years" that will take a "holistic approach." But he didn't put a timeline on when it will be made public.

"I feel the pressure every night when I go to bed," he said of the rising death toll. "I don't need a strategic plan to give me any additional pressure."

Batts said in September staffing woes were among the most pressing challenges for the department. "Our vacancy rate … is impacting us in a very dramatic way," he said, citing a 35 percent increase in attrition.

But the delay in the consultant report by Strategic Policy Partnership LLC, which was the highest of five bidders, has not been explained. Officials said in September they expected it by the end of the month, and said the same thing in October. Despite the delay, the firm has not received any additional funding, officials say.

Robert Maloney, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's deputy mayor in charge of public safety, said the consultant was working on a second draft of the document and the final version could be released as early as this week.

Critics of the consultant contract said Batts, who has 30 years of experience on the West Coast and a master's degree, was brought in to come up with a plan for the agency, but he countered that he is running the day-to-day aspects of the organization and needed an outside perspective.

Asked in September about not being able to present the plan within his first year on the job, Batts said, "Nothing moves fast in Baltimore."

"I came in October [of 2012]. We should've had something online in January," he said. "It took us four to five months to get it through the bureaucratic system, and they [the consultants] had other clients."

The company is chaired by Robert Wasserman, who was formerly a senior executive of several large American police departments, including Boston's and Houston's, and director of public safety for the Massachusetts Port Authority. Wasserman served as an adviser to William Bratton, the former police chief in Los Angeles and New York, who also worked on the Baltimore contract.

For her part, Rawlings-Blake said when the report is completed, it will be worth the wait.

"It's a comprehensive look at the Police Department with an eye toward a lot of the things we know will help us be more efficient," she said. "It's going to talk about the deployment of resources. It's going to talk about the way we use the 911 service. It's going to talk about using a common-sense approach — not necessarily one that's being driven by the way we've done crime before."

She said small tweaks have been made to the agency in the past, but there has been no comprehensive overhaul.

"How can we revamp it and make it work better for the citizens of Baltimore?" she said. "I'm looking forward to some good ideas moving forward. Not all of them will be easy to implement, but my goal is to make it a more efficient and effective police department. ... Through the strategic plan, it's going to help us control costs as well."

The fatal shooting Sunday morning came less than 12 hours after Devon Butler, 26, of the 200 block of Vincent St., was killed Saturday night near Ramsay and South Calhoun streets in South Baltimore. A 47-year-old man was also shot in the torso in that incident, and police said he was listed in stable condition on Sunday.

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