Supporters of a pair of state laws that went on the books this month said they’ll eventually improve Baltimore police operations, as violent crime continues plaguing Baltimore and the union representing police officers trades bars with City Hall over the latest crime-fighting plan.
Maryland law now requires Baltimore’s police commissioner to adjust the boundaries of the city’s nine police districts, modify staffing and redirect resources following a decennial census. Another law requires the city to hire a greater percentage of civilian employees to free up officers from administrative tasks.
“It took three to four years to get done. But we did get across the finish line,” said Sen. Cory McCray, lead proponent of the redistricting bill in the Senate.
City Council President Brandon Scott, who is a candidate for mayor, said both the redistricting bill and the civilian employee law sponsored by state Sen. Antonio Hayes were long overdue. But he provided a simple reason for why a state law was required to mandate the department hire 20% civilian employees by Jan. 1 2022.
“It’s simply a lack of leadership,” Scott said.
Col. Richard Worley, Baltimore Police Department’s chief of patrol, said the agency supported both laws and that the department had no problems supporting bills that help police fight crime. The department started conducting interviews of potential civilian employees on Wednesday, he said, predicting that the department eventually will top the law’s mandated 20% civilian workforce.
“This is a good day for the city and a good day for the police department,” Worley said.
Mike Hilliard, a retired police major now serving as the program director for community services with the HARBEL Community Organization in northeast Baltimore, said the changes in deployment and redistricting have long been needed.
“I was one of those people who had to labor trying to deploy officers in (the) late 20th century, using a mid-20th century model. So I truly understand the impact this is going to have … and how it will bring deployment of the Baltimore Police Department into the 21st century, ” Hilliard said.
The changes in district lines, staffing and resources, however, won’t be enacted until after the federal government completes the 2020 census. The law also requires Baltimore’s police commissioner to use crime data when making adjustments to districts.
The push to alter the police department districts goes back more than a decade. The late Councilman Kenneth Harris Sr. was the first to push for the change at City Hall, Scott said. After Harris left office following a failed bid for City Council president in 2007, the push for police redistricting fell to former Councilman Robert W. Curran, then to Councilman Bill Henry and eventually to Scott, who was appointed council president by his colleagues in May.
Harris was killed in September 2008 during a botched robbery at the New Haven Lounge. His children, Kenneth Harris Jr. and Nicole Harris-Crest, attended the news conference in their father’s place. Kenneth Harris Jr. said his father would be proud that the change he sought is finally on the way.
“It’s the common-sense solution,” Kenneth Harris Jr. said.