Baltimore looks to ‘transform’ police dept. by hiring civilian investigators amid staffing shortage

With violent crime continuing to rise in major cities across the nation, one metropolitan area is putting public perception ahead of problem-solving as they announced a plan to have civilian investigators replace police detectives as part of their “equity” laden budget proposal.

During a press conference Thursday, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott discussed the “ongoing work to transform” the Baltimore Police Department “into a world-class, 21st century law enforcement agency.” The crux of the announcement focused on the “creation” of 35 civilian positions within the police department to mitigate the demands of active-duty officers.

“The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) will increase the percentage of time patrol officers spend on proactive policing by 5% in Fiscal 2023,” the proposed budget stated. “They will accomplish this by converting 30 vacant sworn positions to 35 civilian Investigative Specialist positions. This will free up sworn officers currently performing investigative work to be reassigned to patrol positions.”

Scott contends that this is not a reduction of the police force as the positions have remained vacant for some time, another matter the $4 billion preliminary budget attempts to address with incentives. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison backed the mayor at the announcement.

“This plan is not about taking away jobs from sworn members of the department,” Harrison later told CNN in an interview. “It is about growing the department and creating additional civilian capacity while being smart about how we deploy officers. We are aligning our staffing plan and our budget resources to bring qualified professional staff to work alongside our officers to prevent, deter and reduce crime more effectively.”

The budget elaborated that BPD “has established the Telephone Reporting Unit (TRU) to reduce Patrol response to low priority calls for service (CFS) such as auto accidents, follow-up calls, and civil matters. This allows patrol officers to respond more expeditiously to higher priority CFS, conduct proactive patrol, engage with residents, and address community concerns.”

“This,” Scott told CNN, “is an opportunity for us to evolve policing, to focus our sworn police officers on violent folks who are using guns to kill women, children, grandparents on our streets, and focus on removing them from the communities.”

There is reasonable apprehension about the sincerity of Scott’s proposal after the Baltimore City Council had approved $22 million in cuts to the BPD in 2020 resulting in cries for help from Harrison for federal support.

“The ask is for federal agents to come help us,” the commissioner said in July 2021. “Certainly, police officers will answer citizens’ calls for service. But I think what the bigger picture meant is federal agents will be on the streets of Baltimore. Not specifically patrolling, but on the streets helping, working side by side with police officers to help fight violent crime.”

The budget even notes the higher levels of shootings and homicides since 2014 when the “Defund the Police” movement had begun, something experts refer to as “The Ferguson Effect.” In light of the violent crime rate, which CNN reported has seen an approximately 10 percent increase in homicides through this period of the year over the same time in 2021, the budget priorities are striking.

While the BPD is struggling to fill around 350 vacancies, the budget proposes $334.6 million for Equitable Neighborhood Development and all funding proposals that go through the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs to relegate $641 million garnered from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue plan demand “equity has the greatest weight of all criteria” in determining allocation.

“We want to bring people up to speed to make sure they’re compliant with state law, with departmental policy, how we do things governed by policy and the consent decree here in Baltimore before we employ them and send them out to conduct investigations,” Harrison noted.

The consent decree he referred to is a federal mandate handed down by the Department of Justice in 2017 that calls for reform within the BPD for a reported “patter-or-practice of constitutional violations.” Whether claims of excessive force or racial bias in arrest practices are accurate, residents of Baltimore are none too pleased with the future of policing in Charm City.

Christian Allen told WJZ, “We need to hire more police officers, to tell you the truth. Stop trying to work around it. Do what needs to be done.”


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