Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts attends the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 17.
Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts attends the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 17. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun)

Tom Hoen's babysitter surprised two burglars as they stuffed small electronics, jewelry and cash into his son's backpack Tuesday morning. She said one told her, "The contractors are upstairs."

The men, one with dreadlocks and the other wearing doctor's scrubs, left Hoen's house in the 5300 block of Falls Road Terrace, but took the backpack with them and stood brazenly in the yard as the babysitter called 911.


"It took 20 minutes for police to come," Hoen, who runs a technology startup, told Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts during a meeting of the Roland Park Civic League on Wednesday night.

"That is unacceptable," Batts, the league's guest speaker, told Hoen and an audience of more than 100 people at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, as he took questions after his speech. "I apologize for the service, or lack or service, that was rendered."

Northern District Commander Maj. Sabrina Tapp-Harper echoed those sentiments, saying the average response time for calls to 911 is three to five minutes.

The incident brought local urgency to a speech in which Batts, who became commissioner in September 2012 and is making the rounds of community groups, acknowledged systemic flaws in the police department. He cited high overtime costs brought on by a backlog in processing hundreds of crime reports, police misconduct cases languishing in the courts, a high number of officers being slow to return to work from injuries and disproportionate numbers of officers in various posts, some with too many officers and others with too few.

"We have some broken systems in our organization that I'm working on fixing," said Batts, former police chief in Long Beach and Oakland, Calif.

Batts and Tapp-Harper cited some successes, too, such as burglaries in the Northern District down by 25 percent compared to last year at this time. Batts complained that The Sun and other media outlets focus too much on negative statistics, especially a rise in homicides from 217 in 2012 compared to 197 in 2011.

Tapp-Harper said there have been only five burglaries reported in Roland Park so far this year. But some residents in the audience questioned whether such crimes are being under-reported, and claimed that police aren't taking car break-ins and other larcenies seriously enough.

"It is something we take very seriously," Tapp-Harper said.

Batts said he is focusing on cracking down on gangs and wants to send a message that "you don't get to tear up Baltimore."

And he said he wants to make the police department more efficient, bold and creative in finding ways to fight crime.

Batts, who lobbied unsuccessfully for a juvenile curfew in Oakland, said he is asking Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the City Council to give him more autonomy to "padlock" trouble spots in the city. He also argued that education has a major effect on crime rates and that studies show that children who can't read by the third grade are highly unlikely to graduate from high school.

"I want an organization that is not mediocre, that strives for excellence," Batts said. He urged residents of Roland Park, which he called "a sophisticated community," to find ways to use their different skills and expertise to help "save Baltimore as a whole."

"We are Baltimore," he said.