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NewsMarylandSun Investigates

Why don't police have voice mail?

Law EnforcementCourts and the JudiciaryJustice SystemRochelle Spector

When a rabbi in Northwest Baltimore reported a home break-in, a Baltimore police detective called him back to investigate. But it was Sabbath and by religious custom, he was not allowed to answer the phone. He let it go to voice mail.

The next day he called the detective. And called. And called.

Then he called his area councilwoman, Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, wondering why the detective didn't have voice mail.

Spector soon discovered: No detectives had voice mail in her district.

"I don't want my district to feel that they're not getting the kind of respect and support they deserve," Spector said.

Turns out voice mail is lacking throughout the police department, according to Lt. Eric Kowalczyk, a spokesman.

"It's a technology component being looked at," he said.

Cost is among several reasons that voice mail has never been installed, Kowalczyk said, and many city departments do not have voice mail.

Chris Tonjes, the city's chief technology officer, said he doesn't know of any issues preventing agencies from having voice mail. Any department can request voice mail by contacting the city's Comptroller's office, which is responsible for setting it up.

"I am not aware that there is a critical voice mail shortage (or even other issues around voice mail) in the city," Tonjes said in an email. "Setting up voice mail or a call tree is a very straightforward task, and once requested and approved by the appropriate folks, usually is done … in three or four days."

The cost: An additional $2 per month per phone line, Tonjes said.

This is not the first time someone has pointed out voice mail deficiencies in a city law enforcement agency. In 2010, when Gregg L. Bernstein defeated longtime prosecutor Patricia C. Jessamy to become Baltimore's State's Attorney, he pledged to get prosecutors voice mail.

They now have it after moving out of the city's old Circuit Court buildings and into newer nearby office space.

"Having access to traditional voice mail as well as work cell phones has made our prosecutors more effective, efficient and accessible to the communities we serve," said Mark Cheshire, spokesman for the State's Attorney's Office.

As for the Northwestern police station, Spector said she asked the mayor's office to help get detectives voice mail. Police Maj. Marc Partee, who oversees the district, is working with Tonjes to make that a reality, Kowalczyk said.

It could be set up in the office by the end of this week, Tonjes said.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/justingeorge

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Law EnforcementCourts and the JudiciaryJustice SystemRochelle Spector
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