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Police officers let Hayden have it


They spoke of low morale, broken-down police cruisers and a staff spread so thin that some officers are apprehensive about making arrests.

"If I were John Q. Public, I'd be scared," one Baltimore County police officer told County Executive Roger B. Hayden during a meeting this week in Woodlawn.

He was one of several dozen officers who took advantage of two opportunities this week to meet with Mr. Hayden and speak without fear of retribution.

One White Marsh patrol officer told Mr. Hayden, "The morale in the department, for lack of a better term, [is terrible]."

At meetings in Woodlawn and White Marsh, officers said they are upset about not getting a pay raise for the last three years, about a five-day furlough last year -- despite a nonfurlough provision in their contract -- and about working conditions they believe put them in jeopardy.

They told Mr. Hayden that the cars they drive are old and unsafe. And because the force has about 250 fewer officers than it did two years ago, they said, officers are forced to handle more calls, sometimes without backup.

On some nights in the Woodlawn and White Marsh precincts there are as few as three patrol cars working, officers said.

At White Marsh, an officer told Mr. Hayden that officers feel apprehensive about arresting people because that will take them off the road for several hours and leave their fellow officers without backup.

At one point, early on in Mr. Hayden's first meeting with officers, the county executive scoffed at complaints about the patrol cars, saying, "I've heard a lot of war stories about cars. I'd like to see some of them."

Officers responded with tales of woe about patrol cars with high mileage that break down or don't run properly at critical moments. Newer patrol cars are breaking down, too, officers said, because they sat unused for two years as part of a money-saving campaign.

The county executive finally agreed to look into the matter and later said he drove four county police cars on Tuesday and Wednesday, picking the cruisers at random.

"I'll tell you the truth," Mr. Hayden told officers at the White Marsh meeting Wednesday night, "the four I've driven were in good shape."

He vowed to test drive police cars at least once a week from now on.

Between the first meeting on Monday and the second on Wednesday, Mr. Hayden announced he would approve hiring officers from other jurisdictions for the first time to help bring new officers onto the force more quickly. He already has vowed to have four recruit classes in the next year.

But the meetings were mainly acrimonious.

On some basic issues -- the lack of pay raise and the five-day furloughs without pay last year -- Mr. Hayden would not budge.

Given the fiscal constraints of the past few years, he said, he had little choice but to furlough all county employees to save money. He refused to apologize, he said, "because we were right."

He also noted that the Police Department escaped almost unscathed earlier this year, when he laid off more than 200 county employees.

Mr. Hayden also declined to promise officers a pay raise in the future, despite an impending re-election campaign next year. He said he thought officers deserved more but promised nothing because the county's revenue picture for next year is still unclear.

"The bottom line is, I don't know," Mr. Hayden said.

Lt. Timothy Caslin, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, said officers were glad to be able to speak their minds but were unhappy with Mr. Hayden's answers.

"You'd think he would say, 'If I'm re-elected, I'll try to get you a pay raise,' but he didn't," Lieutenant Caslin said. "He's not giving the officers any hope of improvements."

For Mr. Hayden, the meetings were part of a series of face-to-face sessions with rank-and-file workers in each department.

"People have grave concerns and grave feelings about what's happening in our county and what specifically is going on in their department," Mr. Hayden said.

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