The gov­er­nor’s role

Lis­ten up, Larry Ho­gan and Ben Jeal­ous — if you want to help Bal­ti­more re­duce crime, here are some things the state gov­ern­ment can do

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

Mary­land’s gov­er­nor can’t fix the dys­func­tion that has gripped Bal­ti­more’s Po­lice De­part­ment. He can’t lead it through fed­er­ally man­dated re­forms or set a strate­gic di­rec­tion in the fight against crime. But a gov­er­nor who makes pub­lic safety in Bal­ti­more a top pri­or­ity can be of enor­mous help in re­duc­ing the vi­o­lence that plagues the city. Former Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley was deeply in­volved in the is­sue, hav­ing car­ried his fo­cus on crime from City Hall to the State House. And par­tic­u­larly in the last two years, since Mayor Cather­ine Pugh took over, Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­an­i­mated the kinds of ef­forts that have worked in the past, such as greater co­or­di­na­tion be­tween city po­lice and state pa­role and pro­ba­tion agents; the strate­gic use of state troop­ers to free city of­fi­cers from things like traf­fic en­force­ment; and co­or­di­nated war­rant sweeps. In re­cent in­ter­views with The Sun’s ed­i­to­rial board, Mr. Ho­gan ex­pressed a will­ing­ness to do more, and so did his op­po­nent, Ben Jeal­ous. Mr. Ho­gan men­tioned the idea of re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion bonuses for city of­fi­cers. Mr. Jeal­ous sug­gested set­ting up spe­cial­ized courts to pros­e­cute those as­so­ci­ated with gun crimes and a ma­jor ex­pan­sion of Safe Streets, the anti-vi­o­lence pro­gram, beyond the hand­ful of neigh­bor­hoods where it now op­er­ates.

But the city has a spe­cific wish list of rel­a­tively mod­est in­vest­ments the state could make that would help make the Po­lice De­part­ment more ef­fec­tive in pro­tect­ing the pub­lic. Here are some of the high­lights:

A staffing study the de­part­ment con­ducted as part of its com­pli­ance with the city’s fed­eral con­sent de­cree found sig­nif­i­cant short­falls in the num­ber of of­fi­cers in the pa­trol di­vi­sion. In or­der for of­fi­cers to have the time to con­duct com­mu­nity-fo­cused polic­ing and not sim­ply re­spond to calls, the di­vi­sion would need hun­dreds more of­fi­cers. Part of that is a man­age­ment is­sue, but part of it re­flects a down­siz­ing of the de­part­ment that oc­curred un­der pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions. The re­port sug­gests a so­lu­tion that could get ex­pe­ri­enced of­fi­cers on the streets im­me­di­ately: Hire more civil­ians to take over ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties now be­ing han­dled by sworn of­fi­cers. The city es­ti­mates that hir­ing 100 civil­ians or re­tired of­fi­cers for th­ese jobs would free up 117 cur­rent of­fi­cers for pa­trol. Do­ing that would cost about $9 mil­lion.

Mayor Pugh says the city's stepped-up re­cruit­ment ef­forts are yield­ing more ap­pli­ca­tions for prospec­tive po­lice of­fi­cers, but the bot­tle­neck now is the lim­ited ca­pac­ity of Bal­ti­more’s po­lice academy. She says $4 mil­lion in state fund­ing would al­low the city to ex­pand the fa­cil­ity, hire more in­struc­tors and ul­ti­mately move more re­cruits through the academy each year, help­ing it to over­come at­tri­tion.

The state has helped sub­stan­tially with the BPD’s ef­forts to up­grade its an­ti­quated tech­nol­ogy — no­tably by pay­ing for com­put­ers in pa­trol cars. You know, like other po­lice de­part­ments have had for the last 20 years or so. There are a few other items on the an­ti­quated equip­ment list the city could use help in pay­ing to re­place: its ob­so­lete ra­dio hand­sets and con­trols ($18 mil­lion); the cramped, tech­no­log­i­cally out­dated emer­gency ser­vices cen­ter that han­dles 911 calls ($50 mil­lion over five years); and the cen­tral ev­i­dence stor­age fa­cil­ity, which is too small and doesn’t meet na­tional best prac­tice stan­dards ($25 mil­lion over five years).

Bal­ti­more has a ro­bust sys­tem of closed-cir­cuit Ci­tiWatch cam­eras that have proven ef­fec­tive in catch­ing crim­i­nals (and, oc­ca­sion­ally, bad cops), but they are only ef­fec­tive if the city has enough peo­ple to mon­i­tor them. An ad­di­tional $2.1 mil­lion would dou­ble the num­ber of peo­ple watch­ing the video feeds and co­or­di­nat­ing with of­fi­cers in the field to pre­vent crimes and make ar­rests.

The city’s phi­lan­thropic com­mu­nity has ral­lied around the ef­fort to cre­ate a Bal­ti­more ver­sion of the Roca pro­gram, which has proven ef­fec­tive in in­ter­ven­ing in the lives of high-risk young peo­ple in Bos­ton. A com­mit­ment by the state of $2.3 mil­lion over three years — just a frac­tion of the funds lo­cal and pri­vate sources have al­ready com­mit­ted to — would help se­cure the pro­gram's fu­ture here.

So, Mr. Ho­gan, Mr. Jeal­ous, how about it?

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