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Senate approves bill to end mandatory terms for city police comissioners

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

The Maryland Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that would help Baltimore avoid paying costly severance packages when the city dismisses a police chief.

No other jurisdiction in Maryland has the same problem as Baltimore, where the term of the police commissioner is set in statute at a minimum of six years. That means every police chief's contract must be negotiated for that long, even though the city hasn't had a chief stay in the job that long for decades, lawmakers said.

"At the end of the day, it weakens the city's bargaining power," Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the measure.

The issue figured prominently into the contract of the city's new Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who took over this summer after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired Anthony W. Batts amid a surge in violence. Batts still had five years remaining on his deal, and the city paid him $190,000 in severance plus more for unused leave.

As the City Council debated whether to make Davis the permanent - rather than interim - police chief, it raised concerns about giving another top cop a contract that extends beyond the mayor who hired him.  

The pattern had been repeated several times before: in 2012, Batts had been hired to fill the remaining years on the contract of his predecessor, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who in turn had filled the remaining years of a contract negotiated under the two chiefs who had the job before him.

The city ultimately negotiated a five-year, $200,000 annual deal with Davis. The mayor proposed a $150,000 severance clause.

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration. If approved there and signed by the governor, it would eliminate state influence on city's police chief that dates back to 1860.

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