Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake is quietly enabling the City Council's destruction of public safety. From the perspectives of both the public and the police and fire department employees, safety within the city is crumbling. All one needs to do is look to the numbers for the proof. Mayor Rawlings-Blake took office on February 4, 2010. From the date of taking office to August 24, 2010, murder rates were up 4% compared to the same time period in 2009 for her predecessor Sheila Dixon.
As residents look back on recent weeks of staggering city violence and devastating fires that required assistance from as far as the District of Columbia, City Hall looks forward to making Baltimore a less and less desirable place for people to live and for public safety employees to work. The latest changes to the Fire and Police Pension System require that any current member with less than 15 years of service must now work 25 years instead of 20 to be eligible for benefits. The fallout of these changes includes an overwhelming officer shortage exacerbated by the mass exodus of 42 police officers in June. Although some may describe this exodus as "unexpected," Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke warned against this grim consequence when the City Council voted to extend required years of service for fire and police.
Even worse, there are more disconcerting public safety statistics and data. There are currently more than 150 police vacancies, 50 paramedic vacancies, 120 total fire department vacancies and Mayor Rawlings-Blake continues her policy of three fire company closures daily. Unfortunately, our city is gaining national attention for its failures. The New York Times featured Baltimore in the article "Struggling Cities Shut Firehouses in Budget Crisis." Chief James S. Clack of the Baltimore City Fire Department stated "it's roulette" when describing the mayor's policy of three daily fire company brownouts.
So, why do the City Council and mayor continue to gamble with public safety? Clearly, our city legislature does not value police, fire or the general safety of its citizens. And, moreover, our council members lack foresight into the long-term effects of their current decisions, including the ability to retain and recruit valuable firefighters and police officers. In the end, the people who truly lose are the residents of Baltimore City. Hopefully, the mayor's gamble will not result in a mass exodus of city residents too. Baltimore police and firefighters stand by their oath to protect Baltimore citizens and their families. We ask the mayor and City Council to stand with us and make our city safe again.
Robert F. Cherry Jr. and Bob Sledgeski, Baltimore
The writers are presidents of the local police and fire unions.