Anne Arundel public safety requests: More staff, a helicopter and body cameras
By Chase Cook
Apr 28, 2019 | 5:00 AM
Anne Arundel County police and fire departments have asked the county executive to fund 75 new police officers and firefighters, purchase a helicopter, increase civilian staffing and begin the process of buying body cameras.
These requests — and more — were submitted to County Executive Steuart Pittman as he began internal discussions on the county’s 2020 budget. Pittman will reveal the full budget May 1. It will be his first budget. He has been upfront his administration is reviewing everything, including potential tax increases to pay for education and public safety improvements.
The public safety requests are a window into what the county’s police and fire departments need. The fire department’s requests focused on staffing including new firefighters, civilian staff members and training. The police department asked for fewer staff increases but also included requests for helicopter maintenance or new helicopter, Tasers and other needs.
The requests given to Capital Gazette did not include costs as officials said those numbers had not yet been finalized. Pittman’s administration initially denied releasing the requests but decided to do so after a follow-up request.
Not every request will be met, but the county executive wanted to know the full scope of the needs, said Chris Trumbauer, Pittman’s senior advisor. During the internal budget process, Pittman posted a picture of himself with a chainsaw, jokingly alluding to his plans to pare down those requests. The County Council passed a $1.6 billion budget for 2019.
Pittman was clear to the department heads to ask for what they need, “despite anything they had heard from previous administrations,” Trumbauer said.
Public safety is a core responsibility of government. Last year the combined operating budget for police and fire was about $255 million. Public safety leadership estimated it would cost about $256.4 million to maintain current funding levels without including these additional requests.
Police Chief Timothy Altomare has pounded the drums for years to increase county police staffing, saying officer numbers have fallen behind as the county grows. Altomare has been pushing for 850 officer positions with the county currently at about 765.
“Growth is our mantra,” Altomare said. “We work for Anne Arundel County, so we know we have to be good stewards of the financial decisions we make. You will always see me try to grow because we are far behind.”
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And as the sworn officer division grows, so too must the civilian support staff. Altomare also has requested a new forensic chemist, management aides, custodial workers and crime scene supervisors.
Altomare asked the county to fund ballistic shields, Tasers, 300 cell phones and a new helicopter. If a new helicopter isn’t feasible, Altomare requested funding to do a maintenance overhaul on the county’s current helicopter.
The department also has asked for money to begin a body camera program. Altomare said body cameras is a big request, but it is one supported by the county executive and the department is marching “resolutely” in that direction.
It may not be fully funded this year, but he made it clear that’s a goal for his administration, Altomare said.
Much like the police department, the number of firefighters has not grown fast enough to keep up with county population growth.
That’s why Anne Arundel County Fire Department Chief Trisha Wolford asked the county executive for 55 new full-time positions. This would be split into 45 firefighters, four lieutenants, one captain and five battalion chiefs. Her department also has requested division chief salary changes, position upgrades for new captains, lieutenant, battalion and division chiefs.
Wolford also requested doubling incoming recruit classes from 35 to 70 and hiring 30 “lateral” positions. This means hiring people who have already been trained as firefighters. She also requested three civilian communication officers and a civilian data analyst.
During Pittman’s public budget meetings, firefighters told the county executive new hires could make calls safer as more staff work each fire engine or ambulance. The National Fire Prevention Association recommends a minimum of four firefighters per engine, but Anne Arundel County will sometimes staff an engine with only two firefighters.
This means more engines and apparatus have to drive to a call, which is why someone might see a combination of fire engines and ambulances for minor calls.
It is about making sure the appropriate level of staff is on the scene, Wolford said.
“There is not an area in the county that will not see a positive effect or enhancement,” Wolford said. “We are doing really good meeting our current demands with a little bit of stress on the system, but everything we have asked for could have an impact on every council district and every community.”