State troopers helping city police patrol high-crime areas

Baltimore police have enlisted state troopers to help with patrols as the city confronts a spike in crime, a move that puts to an end years of disagreement between the two agencies over the state force's role in local law enforcement.

With the Maryland State Police now led by a former Baltimore police commander, the agencies began talking about the new arrangement over the summer, and new Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts has pushed it forward as part of his plans to get more officers on foot deployments.

The program, which began in September, pairs troopers with city officers on Friday and Saturday nights. Though troopers have had a presence in Baltimore for decades as part of various task forces, under state law they can only police the city when invited by the Baltimore police.

In Baltimore, political leaders have expressed concern in the past about bringing in an unfamiliar force with its own agenda. The current initiative, both agencies stress, is entirely directed by the city.

While political tangles have hampered past efforts at more cooperation, the current effort faces critics who worry about resources being pulled away from rural areas.

Many Maryland counties depend on state police, who are the primary law enforcement agency in some jurisdictions, and they work alongside local officers in others. Troopers patrol highways throughout the state.

State Sen. David R. Brinkley, a Carroll County Republican, questioned whether the state should be reimbursed for the Baltimore patrols. His county uses a resident trooper program that pays state police to patrol the county, and which state police say they plan to scale back.

"The state police have been struggling with a lack of resources, and in many rural communities, they are the primary force," Brinkley said. "We all have an interest in Baltimore being safe, but in areas where resources are being taken away, where they don't have a city force, that could be problematic."

House Republican leader Anthony J. O'Donnell, who represents Calvert and St. Mary's counties, applauded the move. He said he has long thought the state should use "every asset possible" to fight crime in Baltimore.

Technically, state police are working in Baltimore as part of an initiative to utilize the state force's license-plate reader technology. But they end up getting involved in many kinds of patrol work and have even been walking foot beats.

"We pick a geographic area and we try to target it to areas experiencing some violence, and look for ways that we can use their tag-reader technology," said Baltimore's deputy police commissioner, John Skinner. "They've been in Northeast Baltimore, on Greenmount Avenue, in the Southeast District for robberies. We'll be using them downtown also."

State police Lt. Col. J.A. McAndrew, who began his career as a city officer, pointed to state police deployments for major events or work on a regional task force that serves warrants as examples of earlier cooperation. But he acknowledged that troopers from barracks around the state walking foot beats in Baltimore neighborhoods is a first.

"The state police aren't just wandering around Baltimore," McAndrew said. "We're teamed up, riding with Baltimore City police officers on an organized detail plan, to work on specific days on specific times."

He said the agency sends the officers to Baltimore as part of their normal work duties and the state does not seek reimbursement from the city.

Officials say the initiative is evidence of broader improved cooperation between state and local authorities.

"From the first days of this administration, we have understood that reducing violent crime in our state, including Baltimore City, is a fundamental mission of state government," Gov. Martin O'Malley, the former mayor, said in an interview. "Only the Baltimore Police Department can enforce the law in Baltimore City, but we can play and are playing an important supporting role."

Edward T. Norris, who led both the city and state police, said he faced resistance when trying to get troopers involved in meaningful ways. They balked at his invitation when he was city commissioner, Norris said, and the city rebuffed his interest as state superintendent to expand the agency's authority into Baltimore.

"It was all political," he said.

Some trace the resistance to a high-profile 1994 raid by state troopers on The Block, in which charges against some defendants were dropped because of questionable police practices. An audit of the operation in Baltimore's strip club district showed that officers spent $98,000 on liquor and "amusements."

That raid was carried out only after state police received permission to investigate The Block from the city's acting commissioner.

O'Malley cited that raid — "that was not a positive experience in the cause of greater cooperation," he said — as one of the reasons why troopers weren't more involved in the city during his tenure.

In 2003, Norris wrote to city police offering "immediate help" from state police but asking that troopers be granted full police authority in Baltimore. "The police presence in the city would immediately increase by 5 percent, due to the number of troopers who live there," he wrote.

Baltimore police didn't want troopers there without supervision, and troopers didn't want to come in with limited power, according to a report in the Baltimore Examiner during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign.

The issue became a subject of debate during the campaign, in which O'Malley was challenging incumbent Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

"We would have welcomed the help, provided it was given in a supportive role that is being given today — under the guidance of local law enforcement," O'Malley said.

On a recent Friday night, McAndrew said he rode around the city with Maj. Dennis Smith, the commander of the Baltimore Police Department's Central District. They responded to a shooting scene in the 1900 block of Park Ave., and made a drug arrest later in the evening, he said.

The following night, there was a major police presence around Pennsylvania Avenue, where there has been recent violence. A state police car, with a city officer seated in the passenger seat, idled in the parking lot next to the Avenue Market. Not far away, a Maryland Transportation Authority car sat near a subway station and city officers had cars pulled over up and down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The state police complement is not large, only about eight to 10 officers. They've assisted city police with 90 calls for service and 20 arrests, made 74 traffic stops and conducted 23 field interviews on two recent weekends, records show. They have also recovered three stolen vehicles.

Norris said troopers "get a great education working in Baltimore. What they learn in a year takes 20 years to get somewhere else."

McAndrew said the partnership is a natural fit. "One of the main duties of the state police is to cooperate and coordinate with other law enforcement agencies. We go where the crime fight is needed most," he said.

Del. Keiffer Mitchell, a Baltimore Democrat, said he supports the partnership. "Anything we can do to reduce crime," Mitchell said. "As long as the city is calling the shots."

In 2002, a bill permitting state troopers to work in the city without an agreement with local police passed the House of Delegates but died in the Senate. An analysis of that bill noted a similar measure had failed in committee in 1996.

More recently, in 2007, with the murder rate rising, then-Mayor Sheila Dixon and Commissioner Leonard Hamm announced that Maryland Transportation Authority police would help with traffic patrols in the city, such as the portion of Interstate 295 that is in Baltimore.

But state police weren't a part of that initiative. "If it's really serious, then their people should jump into cars with our people, then we could always have two-officer police cars," Paul Blair, then the city police union president, said at the time.

That's what's taking place now, and McAndrew says there are no plans to end the deployment. "As long as Commissioner Batts wants us down there, we're going to be helping," he said. "I can tell you that in the particular zones where we've been working, there's been no violent crime."

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