Housing security unit disbanded, employees laid off

Baltimore's housing office has disbanded its security unit, laying off seven sworn police officers, the agency said Thursday.

The duties of the Lease Enforcement Unit — which investigates criminal activity in public housing to determine if a resident has violated his or her lease — will be assumed by housing's Inspector General's office, which investigates fraud, waste and abuse, said Cheron Porter, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Housing.

"The Housing Authority of Baltimore City budget has suffered cuts generally over the past couple of years and with sequestration, more cuts could be on the horizon," Porter said in an email. "We have made an effort to streamline our operation and make sure that we are using our funds most effectively."

The cuts will save $300,000 annually, she said.

In 2005, amid an $11 million budget gap, then-Mayor Martin O'Malley announced that the 65-officer Housing Authority of Baltimore City police force would be disbanded, shifting the responsibility for protecting the city's 13,000 public housing units to the Baltimore Police Department.

The 7-member Lease Enforcement Unit was the last vestige of police work left in the housing office, investigating illegal occupants, nuisance activity, unsecured vacants and vandalism.

"We originally believed that some of the investigatory functions performed by the LEU could only be performed by sworn police personnel," Porter said. "We subsequently learned that was not the case, so we disbanded the unit and folded the duties and responsibilities into the Inspector General's Office."

Porter said the officers who worked in housing were eligible to apply for jobs in the agency's Inspector General's office.

"Since the IG's Office already conducts investigations, this is a good fit for the agency," she said.



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