Anne Arundel County Police Chief Tim Altomare on Friday defended a deal that extends county police Lt. T.J. Smith's role as spokesman for Baltimore City Police in exchange for the city sending two of its drug detectives to work in Anne Arundel.
The agreement, which was approved last summer, has recently come under scrutiny by the Baltimore City Council president and the president of the city's police union, who say Baltimore can't afford to trade two of its detectives amid a shortage of police on the street.
Altomare said the deal made sense for Anne Arundel County, which saw heroin deaths spike last year.
"I think it was the right thing to do," he said. "At the end of the day, the only people who worry about that (border) line are the cops."
Anne Arundel police first loaned Smith, who was the department's director of media relations, to Baltimore City in August 2015 to handle communications there as city police continued to face criticism over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody.
Under the terms of the original agreement, Smith took a year-long unpaid leave of absence from the county, and Baltimore paid his $120,000 salary to be a civilian spokesman.
The new arrangement, first reported by WBAL, keeps Smith in Baltimore for another year. This time, Anne Arundel is paying $91,570 of his salary, and the city is pitching in another $45,000. In return, two Baltimore narcotics detectives who are being paid by the city have been sent to participate in the county's heroin task force.
Altomare said county rules prohibited Smith's leave of absence from being extended, "because the county needs value added from employees." Smith's time in Baltimore counts toward his pension and benefits in the county, according to a memorandum of understanding detailing the exchange.
"Getting the two narcotics detectives was kind of the value added," Altomare said. "I could hold my head up and say, 'I'm doing the right thing for our partner to the north, but also giving (Anne Arundel residents) the most bang for the buck.'"
The deal has encountered pushback in Baltimore, with critics arguing that the city can't afford to lose two officers to Anne Arundel.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police President Lt. Gene Ryan said the union was "outraged."
"Based on the agreement for the transfer of personnel between the BPD and the Anne Arundel County Police Department, it is obvious that Commissioner Kevin Davis feels that a media specialist, with no responsibility for fighting crime, is more important than two seasoned crime fighting Detectives," he wrote. "This is clearly another example of the failed leadership and mismanagement of the Baltimore Police Department by Commissioner (Kevin) Davis."
Davis responded by posting his own statement to Twitter in response to questions from WBAL.
He said the department "regularly" assigns police officers to task forces, with agencies including the FBI, DEA and IRS, "to effectively address public safety issues that impact our city."
Davis said he was not considering any changes to the agreement with Anne Arundel and argued the assignment of the narcotics officers to the county "has been an investment that has enforced our capacity to identify and arrest criminals who take advantage of the imaginary line that separates the city of Baltimore and Anne Arundel County." He noted the task force recently seized 159 grams of heroin and made two arrests as part of a late December raid.
Altomare declined to weigh in on the effect transferring two officers to Anne Arundel County has on Baltimore.
"It's not my area of concern," he said. "It's my job to worry about the citizens of Anne Arundel, and I think getting two (narcotics officers) has helped me do that."
Police department heat maps tracing drug activity show a concentration of arrests in north county, near the Baltimore City border.
Under state statute, the Maryland State Police grant statewide jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis, Altomare said, which means that Anne Arundel County police typically must alert Baltimore police when a drug target crosses the county/city line.
With Baltimore officers on the task force, he said, they can follow a drug case into the city and make arrests. The Baltimore detectives also have jurisdiction in Anne Arundel under the agreement.
Owen McEvoy, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Schuh, said Schuh supported the arrangement.
"The county executive has nothing but faith in every decision that Chief Tim Altomare makes and he deferred to him" on personnel decisions, McEvoy said.
The contract between Baltimore and Anne Arundel allows for the trade to be extended for up to another year. Altomare said he would consider keeping it in place.
"I think when a jurisdiction right next to you asks for help, the default answer without a very compelling reason, would be yes," he said.