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City police budget appears seriously flawed

Four people were shot on Boston Street in the O'Donnell Heights neighborhood in Southeast Baltimore Thursday afternoon, police say.
Four people were shot on Boston Street in the O'Donnell Heights neighborhood in Southeast Baltimore Thursday afternoon, police say. (Phil Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Good news, or is it? The Baltimore Police Department would see its budget increase $20 million to $530 million — a 4 percent jump, according to The Baltimore Sun (“Baltimore officials propose $2.9 billion operating budget for the coming year,” March 27). Now that certainly may very well be good news (depending on how, when and where that extra money is to be spent). Here comes the “or is it:” “The proposal significantly reorganizes how the department’s budget is structured, taking almost $90 million out of patrol, and assigning it to other functions.” This begs a question: Are the statements about there being a critical shortage of patrol officers true or not? If true, and there are indications that such a shortage is not only a fact, but critically so, that begs another question: If the shortage is real, why are funds being taken out of the patrol budget?

That is where there is an attempt to justify what initially appears to be a very bad decision. “[Budget Director Bob] Cenname said the changes are being made because much of the money labeled as patrol in the current budget was for spending not related to deploying front-line officers.” If any or all of this is true, someone must certainly be held accountable for making some seriously flawed budgetary decisions. Someone made a bad decision to rob the patrol division to fund other programs. That’s a mistake. Exactly what line Items within the existing patrol budget were earmarked to go to “programs” not directly related to deploying front-line officers? Another question: Are there sufficient funds in the current budget to fund not only existing positions, but a fully-staffed patrol division including current vacancies and possibly projected new positions (if the new police commissioner is able to actually recruit enough candidates to fully staff the agency)?

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If the current budget fails to fund a fully-staffed patrol division (the “backbone” and primary reason for the existence of the agency), how might removing $90 million be a reasonable move? The total costs of funding and deploying a patrol division capable of providing the level of safety and protection for the citizens of Baltimore is, or at least should be, the primary budgetary concern for this agency. There are salaries and benefits, equipment, training and other considerations to be made as to the cost of patrolling the streets of Baltimore. One thing is certainly true here. No part of the patrol budget should be going to fund programs that are not part of the effort to fully staff, train, supply and deploy a patrol division that is able to fulfill its goals.

Robert L. Di Stefano, Abingdon

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