Baltimore 'Innovation Team' to target police recruitment in first assignment

Mayor Catherine Pugh has given Baltimore's new Bloomberg-funded "Innovation Team" its first assignment: Figure out how to recruit more police officers and retain them.

Dan Hymowitz, director of the the Mayor's Office of Innovation, said his four-person team will spend at least six months delving into the issue and making recommendations. The office will hold focus groups and review exit interviews with officers, he said.


"We work on a single big city challenge identified by the mayor for a period of many months," Hymowitz said in an interview. "Given public safety as an overarching issue in the city, the mayor has asked us to work on supporting police recruitment and hiring."

Earlier this year, Pugh announced Baltimore was selected for Bloomberg's Innovation Team program. The city will receive as much as $500,000 annually for three years. Bloomberg Philanthropies also selected six other cities for its third class of grant recipients. In past years, teams have tackled rising rents in Boston, traffic in Centennial, Colo., and blight in Mobile, Ala.


Pugh, who introduced three of the team members during a news conference at City Hall on Wednesday, said she wanted the team to focus on public safety issues as Baltimore faces a surging homicide rate.

"Their focus is on violence reduction. One of the things we can improve is recruitment and retention," she said in an interview. "They're going to look at best practices around the nation."

The Baltimore Police Department has hired 144 new officers so far this year, Commissioner Kevin Davis said Monday -- the first time in years that hiring has outpaced the number of officers leaving.

A perennial issue in Baltimore, recruiting and retaining police has become a more pronounced problem after the death of Freddie Gray from injuries he received while in police custody led to rioting and the indictment of six police officers, none of whom were convicted of a crime.

More officers have left the agency than have been hired every year since 2012, Police Department statistics show.


In 2015, 249 officers left the agency and 91 were hired. In 2016, 221 officers left the force, while 111 joined.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said this week the city has hired 144 new officers in 2017 — the first time in years hiring has outpaced the number of officers leaving.

"There's rumors out there and urban legends out there about no one wants to come to Baltimore, no one wants to be a Baltimore cop," Davis said. "That's all really a bunch of B.S."

City leaders also announced legislation this week that would give police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and sheriff's deputies a $2,500-a-year break on their property taxes if they buy a home and live in the city. The program would cost about $2 million a year, according to legislative analysts.

Fewer than a fifth of the department's officers live in Baltimore. Officials have been trying to increase those numbers, saying that doing so could lead to better policing.

Hymowitz said his team's efforts will complement the Police Department's, not compete with them.

"We'll spend a good deal of time doing the research. We're able to bring some extra analytical heft to the process," he said.

Hymowitz, 39, recently moved to Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood after jobs working on issues overseas. He was a director with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. From November 2014 through March 2015, he worked with a task force that managed the response to the Ebola outbreak in Monrovia, Liberia.

He's also been a program manager in the office of the president of Liberia and worked in London, Rwanda and Washington, D.C.

City leaders are planning to offer police officers, firefighters and sheriff's deputies a $2,500 a year break on their property taxes if they own a home in the city.

To date, Hymowitz has hired Tamika Gauvin as a program manager and Justin Elszasz as a data scientist. He is looking to make one more hire.

He said he's been in touch with Los Angeles' "Innovation Team," which also is working on police recruitment.

"City agencies are busy dealing with the issues of the day. Our team can be a dedicated resource and can step back to work on whatever the issue is," he said.

Pugh said the team's next assignment would likely be working on housing and homelessness.

Bloomberg provides money and guidance for mayors to recruit their teams, usually ranging from three to seven people, who work full time.

Bloomberg Philanthropies was founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to manage his charitable giving.

Only cities with at least 100,000 residents and mayors with at least two years left in office were eligible for Bloomberg's grant program.

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