'How did we do?' police ask

The Baltimore Sun

The phone survey begins like this:

"Good evening, my name is ____ and I am calling on behalf of the Baltimore Police Department."

"I am calling to follow up in reference to your [insert crime] that recently occurred."

The callers are not detectives trying to solve a crime, but officers and neighborhood leaders trying to regain the trust of city residents and determine for themselves whether the people they protect have received the service they expect.

"We're trying to get a measure and get a feel for the quality of police service," said Col. John P. Skinner, who came up with the idea for the survey and ran the effort, which he plans to expand. "We tend to hear mostly about really negative police interactions. But there are a lot of people who are really satisfied."

A handful of volunteers converted cubicles on the fifth floor of police headquarters on East Fayette Street into an ad hoc phone bank for two evenings last week. Each got the script, a stack of police reports, a list of questions developed with a university researcher's help and a phone line.

Melissa Techentin, president of the Southeastern District police community relations board and volunteer caller, said it reminded her of "selling bacon when I was little." Joining her were her mother, another resident, several women who work in the chief of patrol's office and two uniformed officers.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III stopped by just as Techentin finished speaking with a woman who had been robbed.

"I just talked to someone who was very satisfied with police," Techentin told the city's top officer. "This lady, she's brand-new to Baltimore."

Bealefeld seemed pleased. "Wow," he said. "That is cool. Very cool." He shook her hand and thanked her for being there, adding that having residents participate lends credibility to the results.

"I think it is going to help us with our evaluation needs," Bealefeld said later. "We have to give our community a voice. The community needs to tell us what we need."

The 20-question survey asks about response time and whether the victim received a complaint number and other contact information. It also asks whether there has been any follow-up from detectives, whether the victim has been kept informed and whether the detectives appeared to be listening and showed concern.

Callers focused on victims of robberies and burglaries because such crimes can frustrate and frighten homeowners, and can be used to gauge the degree of fear in a community:

"Do you plan to move from this neighborhood in the near future?"

"If yes, is it because of the crime?"

Christine Eith, the Towson University researcher who designed the survey, said, "When their fear goes up, you can see patterns of migration based on the crime." She knows of two other departments that have done something similar, one in California and the other in Ireland, she said.

Baltimore police promised to make the survey results public and to use the information to better train officers.

The exercise has opened the department to criticism. The 20 or so victims who were called Tuesday night conveyed a broad array of opinions about city police.

Eric E. Bruce, whose house was ransacked while he was in jail serving a yearlong drug sentence, didn't want anything to do with the Baltimore Police Department.

"I don't particularly care for any of them," he said. "I told them I wanted them to lose my phone number and forget about me."

Loukas Loukakis, who called 911 to report a theft from his construction site at the end of April, said police did a good job of quickly responding to his complaint.

"When I called 911, they responded pretty fast," he said. "The crime lab came out fast, too. The cops waited for me. They got some fingerprints, too."

Adam Boteler, whose copper pipes were stolen from a house he was rehabilitating near Patterson Park, said he was less than pleased with the help he got.

Boteler, 28, grew up in Baltimore County and rented in the city for a few years before he bought a rowhouse to renovate. He said he had never been the victim of a crime before. "This would be my first real experience," he said in an interview. "It is a big pain."

He said he has talked about his experience with his family and girlfriend. "I'm fixing up my first home to live in," he said. "You tell them because you are stressed out."

Boteler was not staying in the house when it was burglarized in mid-April. The burglar broke through a window grate on the first floor and took a 10-inch saw and copper pipes from the second floor, police said.

A witness told police the burglar took the material to a nearby basement. In that basement, detectives found bits of copper on the ground and a man sleeping. He man denied burglarizing the house and said nobody else had been in the basement. No charges have been filed.

"I don't think they are doing their job as well as they could," Boteler said, adding that he enjoyed having a chance to vent at police when they called for the survey. "I was really surprised," he said.

He said he does not plan to move out of the city - for now at least.

"If they are going to try to follow up and fix their problems, that is great," he said.


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