Baltimore police officials have reassigned the commander of the Northern District station and announced the retirement of the head of the homicide unit as the agency grapples with a burgeoning crime and homicide rate during the first four months of the year.
Maj. Steven Lukasik, who ran the Northern District for more than a year, faced the greatest shortage of patrol officers in comparison to the city's eight other districts, which are all down officers. The shortage is due, in part, to a challenging labor market in which recruits are in short supply, police say.
The department's chief spokesman, Matt Jablow, said the staff changes were made in part because of the need to fill slots vacated by retiring officers. He said Lukasik's transfer to run the property division was not because of a crime spike in his district.
"You need a good person in the property section as well," Jablow said yesterday. "That's a very important behind-the-scenes position."
But community groups and city elected officials in the Northern District have been complaining for months about what they say is a greater need for more police presence in that district.
Some City Council members have also questioned police officials as to how effectively they are deploying uniformed and plainclothes officers across the city. "We're at least 30 officers short," said Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., who represents part of the Northern District, which includes some of the city's most affluent neighborhoods. "Getting rid of the major isn't going to fix the problem."
During a City Council meeting last night, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents parts of the Northern and Northeastern police districts, also expressed her dissatisfaction with Lukasik's reassignment.
"I am not happy," Clarke said. She said Lukasik had "won the trust" of the community.
The Northern District has seen a 9 percent increase in total crime this year as of mid-April - the second-highest increase this year among the nine districts, according to police statistics. The district has been dogged by an increase in crime along parts of the York Road corridor, according to department sources and community leaders.
The city overall has seen a 4 percent increase in crime this year, with a 13 percent increase in violent crime, police statistics show.
As of yesterday, 86 people had been killed in the city this year - 13 more than last year at this time, police statistics show. The Northern District has had 11 slayings this year, three more than during the same period last year, police figures show.
In the property division, Lukasik replaces Maj. Nicholas Palmeri, who was transferred there in February after police internal investigators uncovered allegations of corruption in the Southwestern District during his command. Jablow said Palmeri is retiring.
The Northern District's new commander will be Maj. Michael Pristoop, a former deputy major in the Western District, Jablow said.
"Pristoop is a fantastic police officer," Jablow said. "The Northern is getting one of our very best."
Other changes include the retirement, once again, of Maj. Richard C. Fahlteich, commander of the department's homicide unit. The 32-year veteran retired in 2004, but returned after five months at the request of Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm to command the homicide unit of 80 people, including detectives, supervisors and administrative personnel.
Fahlteich, who has a reputation for being tough and demanding, struck a weary tone yesterday, saying he had reached the decision to retire from the force after discussions with his wife.
"In this position, my life does not belong to me. The cell phone goes off incessantly," Fahlteich said. The 61-year-old credited the detectives in his unit for making arrests in several high-profile cases, including the murder of Johns Hopkins student Linda Trinh and the arrest of a man last fall who was accused in the slayings of five elderly people over several years.
Fahlteich received probation before judgment last month for leaving the scene of a minor accident. The major was off duty and out of his jurisdiction when he pulled over a car in Anne Arundel County for traffic violations, only to have his unmarked cruiser roll into the back of the vehicle.
Yesterday, Fahlteich said his decision to leave was not connected to that incident. He said he had expected to receive some type of internal reprimand from the department.
Taking over for Fahlteich is Maj. Frederick H. Taber Jr., 52, a 32-year department veteran who previously ran the department's special investigation section, which investigated arsons, missing persons, sex offenses, pawn shops and financial fraud.
Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.