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News Maryland Baltimore Crime Beat

Council president wants answers on Baltimore police plan

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.

People driving from church in the 3000 block of Belmont Avenue were greeted by several officers, a crime technician and a homicide detective working behind crime tape in the adjacent dead end street of Longwood, where several yellow evidence markers were scattered.

Top police leaders including Batts, Col. Darryl DeSousa, chief of the patrol division, and Lt. Col. Cliff McWhite, also inspected the scene. Batts said most of the weekend's fatal shootings have occurred outside of the city's violent "hot zones" and included a domestic-related shooting — all crimes he described as "random."

But the shooting of Buckner appeared to be gang-related, he said. Police have identified a person of interest in the case, and they expect to make an arrest in the next two days, he said.

"We will continue to drive the fight against gangs," he said.

Batts said he believes police are deployed in the right areas to combat the surge in violence.

"We've been on top of this pretty clearly all weekend," he said, adding that the "vast majority of these are outside of the hot zones."

DeSousa said he had been meeting with all of the district shift commanders Sunday morning to discuss deployment strategies when he responded to the shooting scene. He said he plans to shift resources he believes will help deal with the spike in violence.

"We're going to tweak a few things; that's going to help us out," he said.

The pair of homicides Saturday and Sunday followed the killing of a 31-year-old man in the Jonestown neighborhood early Saturday and a triple shooting that killed a 22-year-old man Friday in the Pen Lucy neighborhood.

Last year, Baltimore saw 217 murders, 20 more than 2011's total.

With about 3,000 sworn officers, Baltimore's police force is one of the largest per-capita in the country, and the city — with a population of about 620,000 — has the fourth most total law enforcement employees per 10,000 residents, behind Washington, D.C., New York City and St. Louis.

But officials say many of those sworn officers are working administrative roles that in other cities are filled by civilian employees. While Baltimore has the second-highest rate of sworn officers in the country behind D.C., the department ranks 92nd for most civilian employees per capita among cities with 100,000 or more residents, according to an analysis of staffing figures reported to the FBI last year.

"The council president is not arguing with the fact that on paper, the BPD is well-staffed," Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young said. "He is concerned that there is no plan of action as to how they use the complement of officers. The city has paid a lot of money for this report that was supposed to address staffing issues and deployment."

In July 2012, the city's Fraternal Order of Police lodge released a report outlining recommendations for improving policing. Among its recommendations, it called for a redrawing of police district and post boundaries, increasing the uniformed patrol at the expense of plainclothes units, and requiring two years of college or military experience for new recruits.

Robert F. Cherry, the union president, has said the proposals have been largely ignored.

In 2011, 197 people were slain, which gave the city its lowest homicide rate in more than 20 years.

Baltimore Sun staff reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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