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Council president unhappy with Baltimore police plan

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said Monday night he wished the city had not paid consultants $285,000 for a crime-fighting plan that he described as "something we could've done in-house."

Young was part of the city spending panel that approved the consultant contract in April, but he said the finished product delivered last week fell short of his expectations because in many areas it identified problems rather than specific solutions.

Young peppered Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts with questions about staffing and overtime pay at a City Hall hearing, and said afterward that he felt police dodged his questions.

"I'm waiting for the commissioner to earn his money," Young said in an interview. "It was a lot of fluff, a lot of fast-talking. I just felt that I wasted my time."

Chief among council members' concerns was why the department — one of the largest per capita in the country — doesn't seem to have enough officers to provide coverage of the city.

Police said fixes would not be quick but that they were working to make significant changes for the first time in decades. The plan released last week outlines continuing or future initiatives that touch nearly every corner of the agency.

On deployment, Batts said police first needed to study their emergency call trends and deployment patterns, then will have to revamp their dispatch system — a significant undertaking, officials have said.

They'll also have to work out any major changes in officers' work schedules through contract negotiations with the police union, Batts said.

To explain the work being done, police brought forward an Annapolis-based contractor named Peter Bellmio. But Bellmio did not work on the $285,000 contract. He was hired in January for $5,000 to obtain preliminary deployment data, and earlier this month was given a $16,300 contract to study the impacts of changes on deployment.

The consultant who worked on the strategic plan, Robert Wasserman, sat in the back of the council chambers and did not speak during the hearing.

Bellmio said his analysis showed that police in Baltimore receive a volume of 911 calls that is on par with larger cities. He said the agency's patrol deployment patterns also don't take into account that crime spikes at night and on the weekends.

Young and other council members said they couldn't understand why police aren't able to free up more resources for foot patrols. Batts said he had placed 75 to 100 officers on foot patrols in East and West Baltimore as well as downtown and around Lexington Market.

"We're doing exactly what you asked," Batts said. Police also said that though homicides and shootings are up, the rate of increase has slowed since the summer.

Batts has pointed to rising attrition as one reason for the spike in crime this year, and police said the shortages require increased overtime spending.

The meeting became tense when Young pressed police on how many officers they are short each night, and why. Police did not give a direct answer, and Young continued to press. Councilman Warren Branch then intervened, saying to police, "You don't know how many officers work a shift per night?"

Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere eventually said patrol districts typically have 36 officers per shift, 18 of whom are responding to calls. A spokesman later said the shifts "do not go out short."

Young said he does not see a visible presence when he goes throughout the city.

"Where are they? We're paying all of this overtime, and I don't see your officers," he said. Referring to the city's population decline, he said: "We have fewer people, and the same amount of officers. I just don't understand. Maybe it's me."

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