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Baltimore Police Unveil "SMART" Crime Strategy As Violence Surges; Hogan Weighs In

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Under a plan announced Wednesday by Mayor Brandon Scott and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, Baltimore police officers will shift from being "call-takers" to the traditional role of walking patrol and engaging with neighborhood residents.

The response to some minor crimes will be outsourced or handled remotely. 

Traffic incidents that do not involve injury or drunken driving will be outsourced to a third party the city has hired or handled online. 

Social workers will respond to some mental health crises; some minor crimes will be handled online-only or over the phone.

"It does not mean that we are giving up on crime," Harrison said. "It only means that the initial response changes."

Starting in July, the department will implement a series of initiatives, known as SMART (Strategic Management & Alternative Response Tactics) policing to reduce the amount of time officers spend dealing with non-emergency calls.  

Police will also push for residents to make greater use of the Telephone Reporting Unit and the agency's website to report non-emergency crimes like shoplifting, lost or stolen property, stolen vehicles and other instances of what Harrison called "nuisance complaints."

SMART policing will free up officers to walk the beat and build relationships in the community, the mayor said.

"This is about using our resources in an effective and efficient manner," Scott said. "Our patrol officers should be patrolling. We have grown a culture in Baltimore, over many generations, where they are not patrol officers — they are call-takers. We want to go back to the days where we can have our patrol officers being just that."

Harrison said he and the Scott administration are also pushing for a change to city ordinances that would not require a police response to a location with more than five false alarms.

The plan dovetails with the BPD's efforts to civilianize certain positions within the agency and redraw the boundaries of police districts to better allocate resources.

Harrison said the changes would also improve working conditions for officers.

"It helps with job satisfaction and retention because our members often prefer to be out on the streets policing and patrolling and deterring crimes and apprehending people who commit them, rather than just going from call to call to write reports," he said.

WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren asked the commissioner about vetting of civilian employees. Harrison said there is a new person in charge of Human Resources and an audit is underway.

The audit stems from when the commissioner fired his head of fiscal services in April after learning he was a person of interest in a homicide and a background check failed to turn up a past gun charge.

The employee later told Hellgren he was never involved in the homicide and his past record had been expunged.

Gov. Larry Hogan had a lukewarm response to the new crime strategy. 

"I don't know whether it's smart or it's dumb. I just hope that they'll do something about the violent crime and stop the shootings that are taking place every day," he told WJZ. "It's a pretty simple plan: Arrest more, prosecute more and sentence more. Keep them in jail and take the violent repeat offenders off the streets. I don't know what their plan did today, but I'm not sure it's going to address that."

Leaders are struggling to deal with a wave of violence recent incidents that have stunned the city.

They include the murder of 17-year-old Carver Vo-Tech student Jasmine Brunson, Junior who shot at a party after his high school prom.  Hogan announced a reward in the case would double to $16,000.

 "I should have him right here," his mother Tiffany Hair said through tears. "I'm begging you. He was a good child…please do something." 

Chone Cummings, 25, was killed in more than 60 rounds of gunfire last week in East Baltimore, one of two mass shootings just hours apart.

Angel Smith, who was seven months pregnant, was murdered inside her car along with her fiancé Yahmell Montague. Her baby survived the heinous attack. 

Scott told Hellgren on Wednesday they are determined to solve these crimes. 

"We will not rest until we find the people who did it. Period," he said.

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