Baltimore police union to meet directly with community leaders, says department has no crime plan

The union that represents rank-and-file police officers in Baltimore said Wednesday that the Police Department has no long-term plan to address the city's current "crime crisis," so it will be meeting directly with community members, business leaders and elected officials to discuss solutions.

"It's time for action," the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 said in a statement. "We cannot sit back and continue to allow a surging crime rate [to] destroy the good work our police officers and law-abiding citizens have accomplished in years prior."

Lt. Gene Ryan, the union's president, said he is going to ask for union members to help him with the outreach effort, which could take months to complete.

"It's going to take some time," he said. "We're going to talk to all the stakeholders."

He said the union is not trying to undermine confidence in Commissioner Kevin Davis or the department, but "obviously, the direction we're going in is the wrong direction."

Davis fired back in an interview, saying, "I don't have to write a press announcement saying that I'm going to engage stakeholders. I do that every day."

Davis said he has invited Ryan to attend weekly Comstat meetings "every Thursday where we discuss the crime plan, we discuss the crime plan's implementation, we discuss our focus on guns, gangs and drugs, we discuss violent repeat offenders, we discuss our relationship with prosecutors and other stakeholders to hold violent repeat offenders accountable."

He said "the notion that the plan to fight crime in Baltimore is not in place is untrue," and accused Ryan of willful ignorance of that plan.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said her "doors are open for a conversation" with Ryan anytime. "If he's got a better plan, put it on the table."

She said "complaints don't work," and urged "collaboration, collaboration, collaboration."

In its statement, the union called a recent weeklong deployment of more police officers on the streets of Baltimore — which required all patrol officers to work 12-hour shifts, canceled weekend leave and pulled officers from other divisions to work patrol — "merely a stopgap measure and not a long-term plan of action."

The union said it will be "going out in the community to meet with the neighborhood councils and discuss our mutual concerns."

It also said it will be reaching out to the Greater Baltimore Committee and other business leaders "to hear how the lack of a crime plan is hurting the economy," and to the City Council "to schedule one-on-one discussions."

The city has been experiencing record or near-record violent crime all year. There have been 161 homicides so far in 2017. The most homicides through the end of June on record was 172 in 1993, when the city had a far larger population.

Baltimore is under a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice that mandates broad reforms to the department, including changes to the way officers approach people on the street and the way they are trained and supervised. The consent decree followed a scathing Justice Department report last summer that found a pattern of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing in the city, particularly in predominantly black neighborhoods.

The union first publicly slammed the department for its staffing shortages in January, after being asked about them by The Baltimore Sun. The union said police had reached a "tipping point of being unable to protect the city and its citizens" because of staffing shortages.

On Wednesday, the union said it had been ignored, and police officers today "are repeatedly being drafted and forced to work additional hours to fill the shortage in patrol and patrol shifts are still going out under strength."

That's leading to "fatigue" among officers, and attrition, it said. Only 23 full-time officers have been hired since it complained in January, it said.

"The Baltimore Police Department cannot hire enough officers to match this attrition and until they admit this, and admit to their own failure in properly managing the agency and crime fight, the city will continue to see a surging crime rate," the union said.

Davis acknowledged the staffing shortages and the drafting of officers to work overtime, saying the department has 500 fewer officers than it had in 2012. He said the department is trying to fill more than 100 vacant positions, including with new recruits in two classes currently moving through the training academy.

Davis said attrition was a problem after the unrest in 2015 but has since leveled off, and "the notion that officers are leaving in droves for other agencies has become an urban legend that is not supported by facts."

Davis also cited his efforts to reverse a shift structure for officers set up under the previous administration, and enshrined in the union's collective bargaining agreement, that he said is a major problem contributing to the staffing shortages.

Ryan said the shift structure would work if the union had enough officers.

The collective bargaining agreement is currently under negotiation, which both sides declined to comment on.

Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the council's public safety committee, said he talks to union officials "on a regular basis," and agrees with the union that the city lacks a long-term crime plan.

Joyce Green, president of the Central District Police Community Relations Council, said that if Ryan wants to meet with relations council presidents like her, "that's up to him to arrange."

She said she didn't put much stock in the union statement.

"I pay very little attention to the FOP, because I think they are as much of a problem as anything," Green said. She said the union should have been trying to "improve relationships" between the community and the police long before now.

krector@baltsun.com

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