The #1 job of a county government is to keep its citizens safe. When there is an emergency, police and other emergency personnel need to be nearby so they can arrive very quickly. Joanna plans to make improving public safety one of her top priorities as County Executive.
Anne Arundel County has only half the number of police officers per 1,000 residents as the national average. Anne Arundel has 652 full-time police officers, of which 511 are on patrol. Excluding Annapolis, this means the county has 1.37 full-time sworn police officers per 1000 residents. By comparison, the FBI reports that the average county in the country has 2.7 full-time sworn police officers per 1000 residents. No wonder residents, particularly in North and West County, complain of slow response times and feeling unsafe.
Despite this, Mr. Leopold cut 37 full-time police officer positions (5% of the total force) last July. Even more upsetting, Anne Arundel County didn't even bother to apply to President Obama's COPS Hiring Recovery Program in which the federal government pays full salaries and benefits for three years for newly-hired or rehired officers. 71 other Maryland jurisdictions did apply, and both Prince George's County and Baltimore City received federal funding for 50 additional full-time officers each for the next three years.
Even the city of Laurel qualified for 3 additional officers, indicating that if Anne Arundel County had made the effort to apply, it’s quite likely the county would have received the funding to put more officers on the street. One must wonder why the County Executive didn't apply for a federal grant that would have made our citizens safer.
Our fire department is also facing critical shortages. To deal with the tough budget situation, firefighters proposed three pages of cost savings to the administration earlier this year. All were rejected, with Leopold’s Fire Chief promising instead to cut overtime spending by 63% versus last year. The result is that only four months into the fiscal year, the county announced it is considering closing fire stations when firefighters are out sick or on vacation because there’s insufficient overtime funding available to fill the vacancies.
Our county’s revenue cap combined with today’s tough economic times make it imperative that we look for low-cost, innovative ways to improve the safety of our citizens. This will be a complex, long-term process that, to be successful, needs to focus on developing better systems so our hard-working public safety officials can be even more effective. Joanna will work with police, fire and corrections officials to investigate programs such as the following to help us meet our goals:
Goal: Reduce Crime Rates
Track Gangs in Prisons: There are 120 gangs operating in Maryland prisons, and a tremendous amount can be learned by tracking the behavior of gang members in prisons. For example, if 20 inmates are calling the same house in Brooklyn Park, it is likely a center of criminal activity. Gang members in Anne Arundel County prisons are validated on their gang memberships and level of gang activity and some information is shared with county law enforcement personnel. However, opportunities exist to use technology to further systematize the collection and sharing of data, thus potentially enabling us to get a better handle on our burgeoning gang problem.
CrimeSolvers: We should encourage expansion of the CrimeSolvers organization in Anne Arundel County. This independent nonprofit raises money for and manages the process whereby individuals can receive cash rewards for tips leading to the arrest and indictment of criminals who have committed crimes. CrimeSolvers gives police the information but keeps the identity of the caller confidential. Expansion of and more aggressive marketing of this program could help county police solve more crimes. Currently, arrests are made in less than 25% of the serious crimes that are reported in the county.
Better prepare inmates for lawful reentry: The vast majority of inmates in our jails will eventually leave prison and rejoin the community, here or elsewhere. We need to determine the most cost-effective programs to help them become law-abiding citizens instead of repeat offenders, including potentially doing more to help them overcome mental illness and addiction problems.
Comp-Stat: Then-Mayor Guiliani revolutionized policing when he and New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton developed a data-driven program called CompStat that tracked crime in real time and, by being able to predict where crime was most likely to occur, allowed them to dramatically reduce crime rates. Anne Arundel County’s version of this system is called PROTECT. With most large police forces in the nation using something similar, we should make sure that we keep abreast of innovations that are proving their effectiveness in other locales so that our system is state-of-the-art.
Goal: Reduce Fire Department Response Rates
Recruit more volunteer firefighters: It has become more difficult to recruit volunteer firefighters in recent years. To ride a fire truck, volunteers must first successfully complete a 130-hour Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course. They remain on probation until they have taken another 124 hours of classes and passed tests in four subjects. If it is not reasonable to reduce these onerous requirements, we need to find additional ways of rewarding volunteers for their tremendous service. One option is to give volunteer firefighters some degree of preference when openings for professional firefighters occur. A second option would be to find additional ways to publicly recognize how critical their volunteerism is to the safety of our citizens.
Revise hospital intake procedures: We should work with hospitals in the county to improve their systems for rapid admittance of patients arriving by ambulance. Neither the ambulance nor the fire department's medical staff are available to handle other emergencies while they are waiting for their patient to be admitted to the Emergency Room.
Integrate the 911 Call Center: If you call 911 for a medical or fire emergency, you are routed first to a police dispatcher and then to the fire department. While this routing may take only a few moments, seconds count on some of these calls. We should consider integrating these two departments so the 911 operator is able to handle the dispatch of both police and fire personnel.
Reduce overuse of ambulances: A few people call for an ambulance as much as eight times per month, tying up the vehicle and trained medical personnel for 2 to 2½ hours each time. We should consider charging individuals who abuse the privilege of calling for an ambulance, perhaps after the third call in a one month period.