Dixon calls for more police

The Baltimore Sun

Just a week after she indicated that police retention is a more pressing problem than recruitment, Mayor Sheila Dixon yesterday announced a series of steps to enhance police recruitment while mentioning no concrete plans for improving retention rates.

Dixon's six-point plan calls for increasing the Police Department's recruitment goal from 240 to 300 new officers a year, providing tutoring and training courses for the required civil service test, expanding the cadet program and establishing a $1 million loan program for college students who commit to becoming police officers.

Dixon said her administration will also analyze the effectiveness of the department's recruitment and training process and the impact of its marketing program, which preliminary data show "could be getting a stronger return" on its "investment."

The programs would be funded by city money and federal grants for which the city is applying, Dixon said.

"We really think that we have a strong plan [and] that we can really improve on recruitment as we move forward on this issue," said Dixon.

"But for years now, we have had unfilled positions in our department, which means more work for officers that we have," she said.

Dixon's key opponent in the mayoral election and the head of the police union both criticized her for focusing on recruitment, when the crux of the problem, they said, is keeping police officers in the city.

"The recruitment part has been known for years, and it easily could have been done," said City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who is running for mayor. "Retention is the bigger problem. This is window dressing by the interim mayor, who doesn't look at the larger problem in the Police Department, which is the retention of the officers and leadership."

Mitchell yesterday held a news conference at which he vowed to boost the police force by 250 and give an across-the-board 15 percent raise to all officers. Mitchell has argued that morale in the Police Department - and what he says is a lack of direction from the Dixon administration - is to blame for the recent increase in homicides.

When asked about Mitchell's proposal, Dixon said that the salary increase was "not a realistic amount," pointing out that contract negotiations between the labor commissioner and Police Department have not started.

Dixon and Mitchell are among eight candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor.

Crime has become the dominant issue in the city as the number of homicides continues to soar and the police union gears up to negotiate a new contract. The primary is scheduled for Sept. 11.

Paul Blair, president of the police union, said the department has no problem finding new recruits. Over the past two fiscal years, he said, the department has hired 461 officers and lost 532 officers.

"Some departments haven't hired that many in years. We did it in two years," said Blair. "But we're losing more. She wants to help them study for the civil service test? ... That's to help us recruit better police? Unless the civil service exam's gotten a lot tougher, it's not brain surgery. You don't have to be college-educated to pass the test. And we're supposed to be out there recruiting the best and the brightest."

When asked about retention, Dixon called it a "big issue" and said that "we've been having a lot of dialogue about that," considering ideas such as housing incentives and providing cars to officers who live in the city.

"It's one of the items that we're going to have some discussions about on the labor negotiations," she said.

Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said the department loses about 24 to 25 officers a month.

Dixon said some of the steps she is proposing are under way. She said the city has been in discussions with Baltimore City Community College about setting up a training course for the civil service test.

The proposal to beef up the city's cadet program would expand it by 40 people. Since 2005, 39 of 40 cadets have gone on to the police academy. Dixon said the city is applying for a $500,000 federal grant to pay for the expansion.

The scholarship fund would be a pilot, $1 million program for college graduates who make a six-year commitment to the Baltimore Police Department. In return, the city would pay the interest on student loans, Dixon said.

The funding source for the program remains undetermined.

sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com

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