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Housing Authority police praised at reaccreditation hearing


The police force that patrols Baltimore public housing got a boost from tenants and city law enforcement officials last night in its bid to retain its accreditation.

About 15 people praised the Housing Authority of Baltimore City Police Force at a public hearing, part of a review being conducted by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

"They spoke highly of the chief and the department," said Fred Clauser, part of a three-member assessment team in the city for three days this week to evaluate the housing police.

The force has 83 sworn officers with the same training and authority as Baltimore police. They patrol 14 public housing complexes that are home to about 30,000 people. The agency has an $8 million annual budget, all of it from federal housing funds.

The housing police force was accredited for a standard three-year period by the law enforcement commission in 1997. It is seeking reaccreditation under an extension granted by the commission last year.

The accreditation is intended to improve law enforcement by establishing standards in areas such as training, equipment and evidence handling.

Housing police Chief Hezekiah Bunch said accreditation does not directly affect the funding the agency receives, but added, "Everything you do enhances your position when you apply for funds."

Bunch lobbied for the extension at a time when his force was not in compliance with some accreditation standards.

But he attributed the need for the extension not to the state of the police force, but to flux in city government. There were a lot of changes in the city administration, the Housing Authority and the city police force last year, he noted. And there was a move in the General Assembly, supported by Mayor Martin O'Malley but later shelved, to merge the agency with the city Police Department.

With so much uncertainty, Bunch said he wanted to hold off on seeking accreditation, a process he said costs "several thousand" dollars. He could not immediately provide a more specific figure.

Last night's hearing was just a small part of the evaluation, which also will examine the force's operations, management, policies, equipment, training and support services.

"We listen to what people say and we categorize that as support for or evidence against [accreditation]," said Clauser, chief of police in Barrington Hills, Ill.

Clauser and the other assessment team members -- a major from the Coral Springs, Fla., police and a sergeant with the Burlington, Vt., force -- will submit a report in the next few weeks to the commission, an independent accrediting authority.

The commission is expected to make a decision in July, Clauser said.

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