Jack Young: Police union deserves some blame for crime spike

I read with confusion comments from the president of the union that purports to represent officers in the Baltimore Police Department (Baltimore police union to meet directly with community leaders, says department has no crime plan,” June 21). According to the union’s president, Lt. Gene Ryan, the city’s lack of a crime fighting strategy is the main reason for the sustained uptick in crime.

“Obviously, the direction we’re going in is the wrong direction,” Lieutenant Ryan is quoted in The Sun.

A crime-fighting plan is critical, and I believe the department is working toward that end. We on the City Council know that any strategy must recognize the increase in crime as a public health crisis that must be addressed by every agency of city government. That is why we fought so hard to increase investments in young people prior to them becoming youth offenders by pushing to restore funding to support community schools and afterschool programs. These are universal concerns, and I would ask for Mr. Ryan’s support with these efforts. But what he fails to mention is how his lack of leadership has contributed to tying the hands of Commissioner Kevin Davis during an unprecedented spike in violent crime.

It’s a problem that dates back to early 2015 when the city approved a change to the union contract that effectively gave Lieutenant Ryan authority over deciding patrol levels. The move from a standard five-day shift to a shorter four-day one was pitched to city officials as a way to keep the department nimble and better suited to deal with increases in violent crime. That’s a major reason why, as a member of the Board of Estimates, I voted to accept the union’s contract.

But rather than make things better, the change has been a complete failure. I am asking Mr. Ryan — and I hope my plea doesn’t fall on deaf ears — to concede this fact and return to the old structure that gave the commissioner the ability to unilaterally decide staffing levels during surges in crime. I understand that Lieutenant Ryan is frustrated. We all are. But if he wants to know what can be done immediately to help address violent crime in Baltimore, he needs to look in the mirror.

Having union leadership accept the need to return to a staffing plan that resulted in Baltimore experiencing record lows in violent crime would be a smart move for the department and result in better outcomes for the citizens they’re sworn to protect and serve.

Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Baltimore City Council.

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