Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. pitched a slate of new Baltimore County Police positions on Monday and another pool of money for hiring bonuses, calling public safety one of government’s most “sacred” responsibilities.
Flanked by Police Chief Melissa Hyatt, Olszewski described the proposals as a way of further strengthening the police department through improved officer wellness, quicker investigations and more data analysis. The recruitment incentives, officials said, would help boost the agency’s staffing, as department leaders look to hire more than 100 officers, according to Hyatt.
“These investments will make our already excellent police department even stronger,” Olszewski said. “They will go a long way toward supporting our officers and keeping our neighborhoods safe.”
Olszewski will present his fiscal year 2022-23 budget to the Baltimore County Council on April 14. Its proposed police allocation will include:
- Four “floating” school resource officers
- A pool of money for continued hiring bonuses and recruitment incentives
- A “wellness director” focused on officer wellbeing in the police department
- A liaison focused on police-community engagement efforts
- Eight new data scientist positions to identify crime trends and where to target resources
- Seven new forensics employees, including forensic technicians, to help speed up investigations
Baltimore County Police had a roughly $238 million general fund budget in fiscal year 2021-22, or about 10% of the county’s total general fund appropriations. The education budget was the only agency with a larger allocation; it made up about 41% of county spending, according to county government statistics.
Olszewski said Monday the new proposals would be on top of current spending and that his budget would call for no cuts within the agency. Of the new positions, the four floating school resource officers would be sworn officers, and the others would be civilian positions, he said.
Erica Palmisano, a spokeswoman for the county executive, said the new positions would together cost about $1.77 million, with $128,200 for a wellness director, $83,200 for the police community engagement coordinator, $341,052 for the four SROs, $797,560 for the eight data scientists and $421,920 for the new forensics positions.
Expanding the school resource officer program is “vital,” said Hyatt, adding that it’s “much more than simply placing a police officer in a school” because officers serve as teachers, mentors, role models and mediators to students. Many police applicants tell the agency that they considered becoming an officer due to exposure to school resource officers, she said.
Hyatt said a community liaison would enhance existing relationships, additional data scientists would allow the agency to spot crime trends more quickly, and hiring bonuses would help the agency recruit as police departments across the country face difficulties.
New police recruits are eligible for a $10,000 hiring bonus, according to a news release, and an employee who refers a successful candidates will receive a $500 incentive. Officials didn’t provide information on the number of bonuses or referral incentives already doled out.
Hyatt also praised the idea of a new wellness director for officers to “ensure that we provide the highest level of service and support to our members and their families.”
“Good mental and psychological health is just as essential as good physical health for law enforcement officers to be effective in keeping our community safe,” Hyatt said.
Baltimore County Police hired its first organizational clinician for the agency in March, Hyatt said. That individual is a “resource” available to employees through the employee assistance program, she said.
Dave Folderauer, president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge representing Baltimore County police officers, said in a statement the county is “missing an opportunity” by not focusing on retention. Adding new school positions without being fully staffed, he added, could take officers from patrol to work in the specialized assignments. But patrol “cannot afford any more vacancies.”
He also raised questions about why the wellness director is necessary when there’s an existing wellness section overseen by a captain, why the department wants to add openings to the crime analysis unit that already has “multiple open vacancies” and whether it’s a good idea to “centralize” community engagement efforts.
“Community engagement should be at the lowest level. Our precinct captains and their teams already engage the communities,” Folderauer said. “Baltimore County communities’ needs are different. A coordinator will only add bureaucracy.”
Olszewski highlighted that violent crime dropped by 16% countywide in 2021 and that the department is seeing a significant reduction in homicides so far this calendar year that he is “cautiously optimistic” will continue.
So far, there have been eight homicides in 2022, police spokeswoman Joy Stewart said Monday, compared to 22 at this time last year — a roughly 64% drop. The county saw 55 homicide victims in 2021, according to the department.
Still, the county executive acknowledged that public safety is “top of mind” for county residents.
“I don’t control perceptions,” Olszewski said, “but we try to use the data to inform both our approaches but also to let our communities know that, in fact, we are making progress. ... We’re going to continue to make investments both in public safety but also the upstream investments within our schools, within recreation and parks, economic development — it’s not a one-size-fits-all [strategy].”
Last week, Olszewski outlined a plan for $70 million of capital improvements to schools, including $19 million to design new Towson and Dulaney high schools and $2.4 million for a new Scotts Branch Elementary School. The spending is part of a larger 15-year, $2.5 billion plan to renovate and rebuild schools systemwide.
Olszewski said Monday that residents could expect the rest of his budget proposal to call for “historic investments across all of our communities,” including in areas in which residents testified directly during town halls.