With the city on pace to record nearly 300 homicides this year, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm announced plans yesterday to have area police agencies help with traffic patrols in the city.
"You're going to see in Baltimore City different uniforms enforcing the city," Hamm said. "In the past, the Baltimore Police Department was different. We thought we were the end all and be all of law enforcement. Now we're allowing our friends to help us out. Instead of driving by and saying, 'That's the city's problem,' they're going to address it."
Dixon and Hamm announced the new partnerships at a morning news conference.
Absent was a representative from the Maryland State Police, an agency that Hamm said has yet to formally sign on. Any joint crime-fighting operation between the city and the state would require formal agreement or legislation by the General Assembly. Several past proposals to give troopers authority to pull over a car in the city limits have failed.
Under the initiative announced yesterday, Maryland Transportation Authority Police, for example, would help patrol the city's portion of Interstate 295, which normally would require forces from the Southern District, Hamm said. The Mass Transit Administration police would also help.
Officials are still working on a plan that would allow State Police to augment city response to incidents on the Jones Falls Expressway, which Hamm said can tie up officers in the Northern and Central police districts.
Paul M. Blair, the president of the city police union, criticized the effort as a superficial way of boosting police staffing without hiring more officers.
"I haven't seen any homicides or shootings this year on [I-] 83," Blair said. "Other than that, I don't know what impact it will have. I just can't picture ... are they all going to have briefings with us? Are they going to know what we're looking for? What are they going do, go out and lock up loiterers?
"We work with all these agencies already," he said. "I just think it's smoke and mirrors. If it's really serious, then their people should jump into the cars with our people, then we could always have two-officer police cars."
As of yesterday, 124 people have been killed this year, compared with 111 homicides recorded at the same time last year.
Dixon's announcement co- incides with an initiative proposed by City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake that would allow the city to spend $2 million of its reserve funds to launch a new police recruitment drive to fill the department's empty ranks. Rawlings-Blake has said that a shortage of police officers is a major factor in the city's crime woes.
According to city officials, there are 140 vacant positions in the department, which has an authorized strength of about 3,200. Union officials said the department has more than 2,900 officers and is about 300 officers short.
Dixon said yesterday that the city has hired 1,195 new officers since 1997 -- most recently 206 in fiscal 2006 and 231 in fiscal 2007.
Of Rawlings-Blake's plan, Dixon said: "No, I'm not going to support it."
City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who is challenging Dixon for mayor, said he drafted a resolution in 2005 calling for state police to assist in warrant apprehension, drug enforcement and in the police crime lab, which would free city police officers to do street-based work. He said Dixon, who was then the council president, did not support the plan.
"I couldn't even get a hearing," Mitchell said.
Dixon spokesman Anthony C. McCarthy said Mitchell's resolution went too far. Under Dixon's proposal, the outside agencies would primarily help with traffic.
"One of the reasons why she did not support Keiffer Mitchell's resolution, she, like the mayor at the time, did not believe it was wise to bring a law enforcement agency that did not have jurisdiction inside the city of Baltimore," McCarthy said.
This month, Dixon announced a new crime plan in which "safe zones" would be expanded to include the Park Heights area of Northwest Baltimore and the McElderry Park area of East Baltimore. The plan would call for more of a community-policing approach, which would have officers walking beats to help deter drug dealing and violent crime.