City police union offers sweeping critique of agency strategy

Baltimore's police union is calling for an overhaul of the department, describing the agency's management strategy as "outdated, ineffective and reactive" and proposing changes that it said would boost officer morale and reduce crime across the city.

Though the study has been in the works for several months, it comes as the city seeks a replacement for Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who oversaw steep declines in gun crime after taking over in mid-2007. Robert F. Cherry, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the union wants the report to serve as a blueprint for improvements by the department's next management team.

For example, he said, the city's focus on violent crime can come at the expense of other types that affect far more residents, such as burglaries. Among the union proposals is a recommendation that more officers be directed into patrol units, which respond to 911 calls.

Patrol officers "have the opportunity to build relationships in the community, conduct ongoing investigations, and employ more strategic policing overall," the report said. "This is where true reduction in crime will come from."

The recommendations cover issues of pay, benefits and recruiting that Cherry said are crucial to lifting a "crisis of morale" within the Police Department and curbing corruption. Most would not require increased spending, he said. The union's research included interviews with focus groups of officers.

Spokesmen for the department and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake expressed appreciation and said the union suggestions would be reviewed. However, the police spokesman disputed the report's tone and said the department's way of doing things is working.

"We have a recipe for crime declines in Baltimore that's proven," said department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "We're in the process already of establishing nationally recognized law enforcement standards, and we've been committed to improving our professional integrity. These things don't happen overnight."

Cherry said improvements in patrol could be made by redeploying officers in specialized plainclothes units, not simply by hiring more, and that the city's push to fill open spots has resulted in lower-quality hires. He said qualified and motivated officers are more cost-effective.

Guglielmi said the agency's commanders are content with the plainclothes complement, but acknowledged the need to hire to fill vacancies in patrol.

"The community wants more cops in their neighborhoods," Guglielmi said.

Cherry said the proposals are not intended to be an attack on leadership, though the report accuses the department of "lurching from one crisis to another due to a misapplication of resources and a breakdown in command structure." Many of the ideas have been presented to city and police officials before, he said.

"We've made significant strides in reducing crime, but in order to go further, we have to begin looking at systemic problems," Cherry said in an interview. "This is a progressive attempt at changing the way we do things in the Baltimore Police Department. Rather than sit back and complain, we've been proactive."

Noting recent scandals such as the Majestic body shop kickbacks case, the union wrote that the department must improve background checks and "no longer accept marginal candidates as seen in the various corruption scandals of late."

The Majestic case involved more than 50 officers who were accepting kickbacks to refer vehicles damaged in accidents to a Rosedale body shop. A 14th officer, Jaime Luis Lugo, 36, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court and was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay $32,000 in restitution.

Guglielmi said nothing in the backgrounds of the officers in the towing scandal would have precluded their hiring. He said the city's police hiring standards exceed those recommended by the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission, which provides minimum standards for the state's law enforcement officers.

Though the city has invested millions of dollars in training — a key priority of Bealefeld's administration — officers leave too quickly, the union report said. As of June 8, more than 900 officers, or about one-third of the police force, had fewer than five years of experience. That was up from 800 officers two years ago, the study found.

"We've been getting good people lately but not keeping them," a Baltimore officer is quoted as saying in a focus group. "They're gone in two years to work for another police department. [The other departments] use us as training."

Citing training surveys, the report said: "Not one city officer said he or she would recommend joining the Baltimore Police Department to potential applicants."

Years ago, it said, "many officers took pride in being a police officer in one of the most challenging policing environments in America. This is simply not the reality anymore."

It also recommended revisiting changes to police pensions in 2010 that included a rise from 20 to 25 years in the minimum number of years of employment required to be eligible for retirement for employees who have worked for the department less than 15 years. Cherry said officers who were with the department before the change should be grandfathered in, and he wants the city to reinstate a college tuition reimbursement program.

The union recommendations urge the agency to establish a minimum of a two-year associate's degree and/or two years of honorable military service, which it said is similar to hiring guidelines used by the New York City and Howard County police departments, and to offer incentives for officers to remain with the city long term.

The report also called for re-establishing certain ranks and establishing a uniform color for all ranks. And it advocated revamping the weekly data-sharing meetings called Comstat, to shift the focus toward problem-solving and away from achieving statistical benchmarks.

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