Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison discusses his new crime plan for Baltimore.
The Baltimore police commissioner’s crime plan unveiled Thursday sets a “new performance goal” of responding to serious calls within 10 minutes and said officers will be asked to spend a third of their time on proactive efforts to curb violent crime.
The initiatives were among many outlined by Commissioner Michael Harrison as he grapples with the city’s soaring homicide rate. Many of the initiatives have been announced before, but the plan provides more details of his vision for reforming community relations and reducing crime. Harrison also offered a blueprint for more effectively using the department’s resources.
“When the department operates more efficiently and more effectively we will be better able to reduce, deter and prevent violent crime,” Harrison said at a news conference Thursday at police headquarters. “In our new vision for the department, we have established a path for making us one of the finest police departments in the country."
Harrison’s plan offers an immediate crime-fighting strategy as well as long-term goals for the department over the next five years for crime reduction, community engagement, compliance with the federal consent decree reforms, accountability, technology, increasing the ranks, and communication.
Harrison was joined at the news conference by Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur, and members of the city council.
Young said the plan reflects the need to have a “collective and collaborative” approach to reduce crime.
“We will focus with laser precision on these people and places that are driving the violence with a goal of comprehensive and collaborative approaches," Young said. “We will work with the community to understand what is needed to reach those who wish to turn their lives around.”
In addition to the police department’s plan, the mayor’s office is expected to release a second collaborative plan that will include efforts by other city agencies to assist in the crime fight.
"I am truly optimistic about our city’s future with this new crime plan,” Young said.
Harrison said his plan focuses on working with the community, encouraging officers to be proactive, and using “intelligence-led policing” that uses research analysis and data to determine deployment decisions. He added that the plans are “living documents,” meaning they can be adjusted at any time to address needs.
City Council President Brandon Scott said the council has been pushing for the department to compile a crime plan since 2017 when he was named as the council’s public safety chairman.
“When you’re in a city like Baltimore in the midst of a crime and violence epidemic, you cannot and should not have police resources dedicated to things that are not life and death,” Scott said. “I am thankful for Commissioner Harrison for coming up with the plan. We are still suffering from the disease of gun violence in Baltimore.”
Harrison said residents might notice changes in deployments in their neighborhoods with more officers out on foot or possibly more officers sent to specific areas, as commanders evaluate the specific needs in their districts. Deployment decisions will not just use location, but also times of day and days of the week when specifics areas see more incidents.
While part of the plan discusses recruiting and retaining officers, Harrison would not say how many officers he thinks are necessary for the department to run smoothly. He said a staffing study is underway and is expected to be released in the coming months. A previously released plan required by the consent decree said the patrol ranks have a 26 percent vacancy rate.
Over time, Harrison said he hopes the plan will help reduce the use of overtime, which has been a long-term concern and large expense for the department.
Harrison did not say Thursday what the department’s current response time average is, but that it responds to emergencies “extremely fast." Now that’s been reinforced with a written goal that officers can work toward, he said.
In addition to the 10-minute response time goal, the plan puts forward other initiatives to get already-stretched officers out into the community.
As part of the plan to establish better community ties, detective units investigating armed robberies, burglaries and nonfatal shootings have been assigned to work out of the local districts in hopes they will be better able to develop relationships with residents.
The plan also calls for updating technology, which is expected to free officers from more mundane tasks so they can concentrate on curbing crime.
A new electronic reporting system will allow officers to write reports while out on the street. A new “Records Management System” will allow supervisors to “better track attendance, control overtime, comply with complex contract restrictions, and manage rotation patterns and coverage requirements.” Another system will help track internal affairs cases and help flag potentially troublesome behavior. It also will alert “supervisors when possible issues with officers or units arise.”
Harrison said he hopes to get more money in the near future to fund the software upgrades.
You cannot and should not have police resources dedicated to things that are not life and death.
City Council President Brandon Scott
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Harrison also ordered a “full redesign” of Comstat, the data-driven weekly meetings designed to hold top department supervisors accountable for crime in their districts or enforcement areas. The new Comstat will be based on more metrics, such as clearance rates, overtime and use of force data.
To improve the quality of police investigations, the department will consult with Baltimore City prosecutors on a broader range of cases, including homicides, non fatal shootings and armed robberies.
Mosby said she’s "incredibly encouraged” that Harrison has a strong vision and is taking a “holistic approach” to crime.
She noted that the plan calls for “a collaborative analysis” to evaluate cases that are dismissed so that law enforcement can identify trends or issues to make stronger cases in the future.
The plan also calls for five federal prosecutors to work alongside city prosecutors to identify cases involving “repeat violent gun offenders” so they can be tried in federal court, where defendants face longer sentences.
While Hur said he regularly speaks to Harrison and Mosby, having additional prosecutors working directly with the city is imperative to identifying cases that can be tried federally.
“We know we need to do everything we can” to help Baltimore, he said.
Much of his office’s work is related to violent crime in Baltimore, Hur said. This year, he said, his office is on track to prosecute 50 percent more violent crime cases in Baltimore than last year.
The five additional Special Assistant United States Attorneys are local prosecutors who work in a federal capacity, similar to city police officers who are assigned to federal task forces, he said. They will be funded by the state.
“We are grateful to Gov. [Larry] Hogan getting behind this idea,” he said.
Harrison said Thursday he anticipates discussing the plan with Hogan in the coming weeks.
“Governor Hogan has long urged city leaders to present a comprehensive crime plan, and now that one has been put forward, we look forward to discussing it with Commissioner Harrison, Mayor Young, and city officials," Hogan spokeswoman Shareese N. Churchill said in an email.
The plan also calls for the department to reinstitute what it called “call-ins,” in which officers, prosecutors and other law enforcement officers make contact with people on probation and parole. The visits serve as a reminder to criminals of the penalties they face if they don’t stop committing crimes and is also targeted at offenders who leave prison and return to gangs.
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Under the plan, the police department would work with the general services and finance departments to finalize a plan by the end of this year for the renovation, repair or replacement of all nine district stations and the relocation of the training academy.
The plan says it expects to relocate and expand its academy facilities by the end of the year. It said it believes that will allow for more recruits to pass through the academy each year.
Harrison said he and Young have toured the University of Baltimore law school and plan to move the police academy there this year. Additional details about the move were not available Thursday. Police spokesman Matt Jablow said the department is still working out the plans with the school.
The plan also calls for adopting the Ethical Policing is Courageous, or EPIC, program that Harrison helped launch in New Orleans in 2016. The program is a peer intervention program that trains officers to “intervene when they see that their colleagues, or even their supervisors, are going down the wrong path.”