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Review of housing police is promised

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore housing officials have promised an independent review of their police department and its management after a union meeting last week in which officers voted no confidence in Chief Hezekiah Bunch.

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City made the commitment to the union, which voted Friday.

The Housing Authority Police Department's commanders also braced for a threatened work slowdown by officers on the 110-member force, who are responsible for patrolling public housing developments.

Baltimore police "are ready to step in," said housing spokesman Zack Germroth.

Confidential memo

Complaints began last week after the public airing of a confidential memo in which Bunch proposed that his police force be cut in half, mostly through layoffs.

Bunch said budget cuts are looming for every housing agency, and the elimination of several public housing high-rises means fewer police are needed.

But rank-and-file officers argue that their jobs can be saved by trimming money elsewhere and say Bunch and his commanders have wasted funds on office furniture and an expensive desk.

Officers complained that the lights on patrol cars don't work correctly, not enough cars are available and police radios aren't synchronized with city police officers and top commanders.

They also complained that Bunch "shows a lack of concern" for his officers, charging that he and his staff do not show up at scenes in which officers are injured.

Acrimonious meeting

Officer Gregory Missouri, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 107, described Friday's union meeting as acrimonious. Missouri said 45 of the union's 57 members showed up, and that the no-confidence vote in Bunch was unanimous.

In a statement, the union president said a work slowdown has been proposed.

"A number of officers seem to have their minds made up regarding the work slowdown," the statement said. "Many of the officers stated that they will only respond to calls that are dispatched to them and nothing more."

Germroth said the police evaluation will start today or tomorrow, and a report will be turned over to Housing Commissioner Patricia J. Payne, city Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris and Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"The group will come in and one by one go through each of these allegations," Germroth said. "We are quite concerned."

As to the no-confidence vote in Bunch, a retired Baltimore police lieutenant who took the top job at housing in 1993, Germroth said he could not comment. "At this point, everything we have in front of us are allegations."

Bunch dismissed the claims as "ridiculous" and said many are made by officers with disciplinary problems or others vying for his job.

He said furniture was falling apart when offices moved from Rutland Avenue in East Baltimore to a building off Martin Luther King Boulevard.

He also said budget cuts are inevitable.

"It's going to be a smaller police department," he said. "Officers are frustrated. Period. There are issues. Some issues are out of my control."

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