Volunteer auxiliary police officers in Baltimore County will help inspectors with code enforcement duties under legislation approved Monday night by the County Council.
Council members voted unanimously to create a one-year pilot program that will allow auxiliary officers to assist with tasks such as checking problem properties and looking for potential violations.
The pilot will be conducted in the eastern part of the county, including in Dundalk, Essex and Middle River.
The county Police Department has about 65 auxiliary officers — trained civilian volunteers who ordinarily help provide crowd control at public events, direct traffic, issue parking citations, help during emergencies such as storms and perform administrative duties.
Councilman Todd Crandell, who sponsored the bill, said auxiliary officers can help code inspectors deal with issues such as vacant homes and rat infestations.
"These things can be a public health and public safety issue," the Dundalk Republican said.
Crandell said auxiliary officers will help the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections, which has 18 code enforcement officers to cover 682 square miles of Baltimore County.
"They just lack the manpower," he said.
Neighborhoods in the eastern part of the county struggle with aging homes. Without better code enforcement, Crandell said, he fears the "rate of decay" could outpace the economic growth coming from new developments such as Tradepoint Atlantic at the former steel mill site in Sparrows Point.
Many suburban police agencies, including Howard and Anne Arundel counties, have auxiliary or reserve officers to help police with support duties.
In Baltimore County, auxiliary officers complete 115 hours of training. They do not carry guns, but do have "extremely limited" arrest powers, according to police.
In 2014, an auxiliary officer was taken off patrol duties after ordering a man to stop videotaping an arrest in Towson. The auxiliary officer told the man he had "lost" his constitutional rights.
Crandell said he doesn't expect problems with using auxiliary officers for code enforcement because it will be small, narrowly defined pilot program.
He said auxiliary officers might, for example, make routine checks of abandoned homes that have been cited for tall grass or not being properly secured. Or they could follow up after contractors perform rat exterminations in neighborhoods to see if the work was effective.
The county's existing inspection staff is too small to allow that type of work, Crandell said. Their work is driven entirely by citizen complaints.
Auxiliary officers would not have all the legal powers of code enforcement officers. They would not be allowed to write citations, nor could they enter private property, Crandell said.
"This wouldn't necessarily make auxiliary police a code enforcement officer," he said.
The bill originally covered the whole county, but Crandell narrowed it to a pilot program in a smaller area to address concerns from county police and inspections officials. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz declined to comment until he reviewed the revised bill.
Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat who also represents eastern Baltimore County, signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill.