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Mobtown Beat

Second String

Plan to Reorganize City's Auxiliary Police Unit Has Some Officers Feeling Anxious

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 1/21/2009

For more than a quarter of a century, the Baltimore Auxiliary Police Unit has supplemented law enforcement by directing traffic and controlling crowds during parades and major events. Now, the volunteer unit is the subject of a strategic overhaul that Baltimore City Police Department officials say will add to the unit's range of functions so auxiliary officers can be better utilized.

The unit is in the midst of moving from under the auspices of the department's Administrative Bureau to its Operations Bureau. The department says the unit will be reorganized and officer training more standardized than it has been in the past.

"How did you hear about this?" asks an auxiliary lieutenant who answers the phone at the unit's offices on the 7th floor of police headquarters. "It's supposed to be hush-hush."

The unit's 30 some-odd volunteer members are required to re-apply for their positions, receive new training, submit to polygraph tests and a background check, and get fingerprinted, regardless of rank or years of service.

Auxiliary police dress like regular police, but have a blue stripe down the side of their pants. You'll see them out directing traffic on a 95-degree day at Camden Yards, or on a 35-degree day at M&T Bank Stadium. They work the BookFest, HonFest, and the MLK Day March. They carry badges marked "Auxiliary." Though they are department trained--40 to 60 hours versus six months for regular officers--they are not sworn officers. And though they carry mace, batons, and police radios, and wear bulletproof vests, they do not carry guns.

On Jan. 13, police commanders told the unit of the overhaul, according to two sources who were at the meeting. Many had re-applied just three months ago.

"They need to stop trying to tear us down," says veteran Auxiliary Sgt. Wennie Gibson-Watts. "If not for us, the city would be paying $35 an hour for police to work the ballgames." But that might be part of the problem. Gibson-Watts and others say city police resent them as a drag on overtime, and that police commanders have threatened to retaliate against auxiliary officers who talk to the media. Promotions also have been halted, she says, and the last two training classes have been held back. "We don't even get a thank you," she says.

All aspects of the unit are up for review, says Police Agent David Simmons of the Administrative Bureau, pointing to inconsistent training and qualifications of auxiliary officers over the years. "This comes straight from the top," Simmons says, referring to Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld. "It's a vision the commissioner has with the full support of City Hall."

Mayor Sheila Dixon declined numerous requests for comment on the reorganization. Instead, she offers a prepared statement: "The Auxiliary Police provide a valuable service to the City. These city volunteers are a force multiplier that supports the mission of the Baltimore Police Department." A spokesperson for Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says she was not aware of the plans to revamp the auxiliary unit, and at press time had no further comment.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirms the reorganization, but insists the unit is not on the chopping block. "Commissioner Bealefeld is always looking to keep the knives sharp and the machine oiled," Guglielmi says, adding that the goal is to grow the unit, which is currently inactive. But he declined to offer specifics: "This is not really fleshed out yet."

Crime deployment at malls and shopping centers is one way a re-vamped auxiliary unit can be useful, says Col. Stephen Davis of the Baltimore Police Department's Technical Services Division. "They could serve as our eyes and ears."

Court records indicate the auxiliary unit is ripe for examination. A recently trained applicant, Robert S. Keene, was arrested and charged in December with second-degree rape. Unit member Carl A. Brunner says he was suspended indefinitely after his arrest in September for drug possession. (The state declined to prosecute.) Another member of the unit, who has criminal convictions that date back to at least the early 1990s, and who disclosed her record when she joined the unit, is claiming discrimination and harassment by a commanding officer who disclosed her private health information to others on the unit.

Internal e-mails obtained by City Paper paint a murky picture of the unit. "[It] is looked at with a mixture of disdain on one hand and confusion on the other because they don't know what to make of us," reads an August 2008 e-mail from an auxiliary officer whose status City Paper was not able to determine. "I had members of the CIA and the NSA at a dinner party [express] the universal misconceptions that auxiliary are a bunch of semi-retarded wing nuts that want to wear a uniform and feel important and the truth is I don't completely disagree."

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