The Baltimore Police Department is drawing up plans to cut the training it gives to recruits so it can meet Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's mandate to put at least 330 new officers on the street over the next four years -- 150 of them in the next year alone.
The plan, which has been in the works since last summer, has already reduced the standard eight-month police academy training program by almost a month. And police commanders are looking to shave additional hours from the curriculum so they can move more classes through the school.
The shortened course load will result in one of the biggest crops of new officers to go through the academy in at least a decade and will push the 2,900-member department above the 3,000 mark for the first time in nearly as long -- just as Mr. Schmoke is warming up his 1995 re-election campaign.
The move is raising fears that the mayor may be trying to do too much too soon, at the risk of producing under-qualified and under-trained officers. This, critics say, may lead to a repeat of a period of surging recruitment and slumping standards about five years ago that left the department with incompetent officers.
"Anything that puts more officers on the street is usually something I would applaud," said Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, chairman of the City Council's Public Safety Committee and 4th District representative. "But the increase in quantity cannot come at the expense of quality. There are going to be people inside and outside the department who will want to see this plan."
With the city set to break last year's record of 335 homicides and hold its position among the nation's deadliest cities, Mr. Schmoke has little choice but to act, said his spokesman Clinton R. Coleman.
"The mayor is concerned that we've been spinning our wheels while the crime rate has been steadily advancing," said Mr. Coleman. "He put money in the budget for this last summer. And the year is half-way gone and we're not any closer to where we need to be on this problem."
That money -- more than $4 million -- has been pieced together by the mayor since July, when the City Council approved his budget.
About the same time, the Police Department began work on a plan to shave almost four weeks from one of the state's longest police academy programs, said Deputy Commissioner Michael Zotos.
"Nobody should have the idea that this was a panic situation," he said. "When we got the mayor's memo to start working on a plan, we didn't just run around trying to figure it out. We were already into the process."
By cutting a few hours from such subjects as "the care and treatment of animal bites" and "how to handle a bomb," the academy has been able to reduce the program without cutting into what Mr. Zotos called "the essentials."
He declined to state exactly where the total 140 hours of cuts will come from, saying the plan requested by the mayor's office is still being prepared for a November deadline.
However, Mr. Zotos said the department is considering deeper cuts that could eliminate "fringe courses" in subjects like sociology and psychology.
"The No. 1 priority is to stay away from things that are essential to their function as a police officer," he said. "I don't think that's going to be a problem."
At the same time, commanders are trying to improve the quality of the recruits sent to the academy by venturing outside the pool of 800 or so local applications typically on file for any 40-member class, said Maj. Ronald L. Daniel, the department's director of personnel.
"We're advertising for the first time since I don't remember," he said. "We're hoping to take advantage of the downsizing in some of the larger corporations and the military to bring in a crop of better candidates -- people who are perhaps better educated and motivated.
"It should give us an edge when it comes to training them."
New officers: 330
On the beat: By 1997
Cost to put them on the streets: More than $4 million
Training cuts: 3 1/2 weeks out of eight months of instruction