Batts' crime-fighting plan focuses on gangs, guns, violent offenders

It would bring change to nearly every part of city department

November 21, 2013|By Justin George, Justin Fenton and Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts wants to stop sending officers out on low-priority 911 calls, expand foot patrols and create a unit focused on investigating incidents in which police use force.

He proposes assigning homicide detectives to city neighborhoods, beefing up investigative units and sending elite plainclothes officers to more police districts. He wants to install tiny cameras on officers' uniforms and put computer tablets in their hands.

A year on the job, Batts on Thursday unveiled an overarching crime-fighting plan he said would bring "much-needed" and "long-sought-after reform" in a department he said has relied too heavily on outdated procedures and technology.

In a nearly 200-page report, compiled with outside consultants at a cost of $285,000, Batts calls for changes in nearly every area of the city department.

"This is our corporate business plan," he said. "Reform and change comes slowly, but it will come."

More than 70 local leaders — city officials, police commanders, academics and neighborhood activistsjoined Batts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at City Hall as they announced the new strategy.

"We understand that crime is not static — what worked in previous years may not work now or in the future," Rawlings-Blake said. "The report speaks some honest and hard truths about where we have to make improvements while acknowledging that many of our current efforts are taking us in the right direction."

The report mentions, but doesn't offer proposals to address, long-standing issues such as the department's district boundaries, which have remained the same for more than three decades while the city's population shifted dramatically.

And while a police survey reports that just 9 percent of officers describe morale as "good," the plan says little about how to improve the department's working conditions.

Noticeably absent from the unveiling was Robert F. Cherry, president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police. The union last year put out its own blueprint for the department, with proposals to improve recruiting and retention, redraw police boundaries and bolster community policing.

Reached after the City Hall event, Cherry was terse.

"We're going to read the entire report," he said. "In those instances where we agree or disagree, we'll bring it to the attention of the police commissioner and mayor."

Some questioned whether such sweeping changes were realistic for a department struggling with budget and attrition problems, and which was criticized this week by the American Civil Liberties Union for failing to keep adequate records or maintain oversight of police stops and individual searches.

Batts is calling for 46 new general orders — the regulations by which officers operate — and 21 new forms, even as the department struggles to adhere to guidelines already in place. For years, a review found, police stopped conducting training reviews of police-involved shootings.

Most of the recommendations were classified as "budget neutral," but many could increase costs. Batts proposes hiring more consultants, buying new technology, increasing staff in key areas and transforming the city's Watch Center for surveillance operations into a "bona fide, departmental intelligence fusion center."

"I don't think we're biting off more than we can chew," Batts said. "We're going to win the confidence back from all angles of this community."

City Councilman Brandon Scott, the vice chair of the public safety committee, said the report largely summarized many of the agency's continuing efforts.

"Even though I don't think we needed to spend $250,000 for this document, it's evident that all of us agree that these are the things we need to be doing," Scott said. "The devil is in the details of how we come together to make it happen."

City Councilman Robert Curran has been pushing for years to have district boundaries redrawn to gain more resources in the Northeastern District he represents.

The plan refers to the possibility of dividing the 17-square-mile district in half and running a pilot program in which officers wouldn't be tethered to specific police posts. But Curran didn't see changes outlined that will add officers.

"I'm hoping it means in the next six to eight months that they will come up with a plan to get more officers here," he said.

Batts said it could take another year.

Doug Ward, the director of the Division of Public Safety Leadership at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, said plans as broad as Batts' can be difficult to implement but are necessary.

"The changing of an organization and its culture takes years. But you have to start somewhere," he said. "If you do it right, it has more of a chance of working than doing nothing or just putting out fires."

Ward said Batts is a "guy who gets it."

"If anybody can pull it off, he can," he said.

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