Baltimore City Council President Jack Young opens mouth, inserts foot.

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young again stuck his foot in his mouth, and this time it was particularly offensive. Mr. Young, angered that the officers of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) represented by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) refused to ratify the collective bargaining agreement proposed by the city, accused police officers who live outside of the city of “raping the city” by not living in Baltimore. Only about 20 percent of officers live in the city.

Mr. Young later clarified his remarks, stating he was referring to the negative effect on the city’s tax base by having employees living and paying taxes elsewhere. Taking him at his word, his use of the term “raping” nevertheless had an unnecessarily harsh connotation, implying that the officers are doing something wrong by choosing to live outside of the city.

In fact, they are not. They are doing what many current residents of the city would like to do: Living in communities that are safer, and where taxes are lower and public schools and other services are far better.

It would be interesting to know the percentage of officers who live in the city when hired, and then move out of the city later. I’m guessing it is higher than the percentage who live outside of the city when hired, and then move into the city later.

The starting salary for a BPD officer is about $49,000. That’s not bad, but it is not enough to afford to live in Guilford, Roland Park or Homeland. Are there are other wonderful neighborhoods in Baltimore? Yes, there are, but for young officers thinking about raising a family, the number of desirable places in the city is, unfortunately, relatively limited. Millennials attracted to communities like Federal Hill and Fells Point tend to go back to the suburbs when children are on their way.

Do you wonder how many families at the lower end of the economic spectrum, black or white, would jump at the chance to move out of the city to Baltimore, Howard, or Anne Arundel County if they had the means to do so? A lot. Why would police officers, including those who grew up in the city, be any different?

I hope that someday soon Baltimore will become a more attractive place for middle class families to raise children, but the harsh reality is that right now it just isn’t. And the absolute last thing that the BPD needs is for the city to use its officers for some sort of social experiment, by trying to force them to live in the city and then see what happens.

The BPD is struggling to recruit officers in adequate numbers, continues to have serious disciplinary problems, and arguably is failing at its primary job of preserving public safety. With all that going on, I can’t imagine why anyone in a position of authority in the city is preoccupied with the loss of tax revenues attributable to officers living outside of the city. The BPD already has gone from the frying pan into the fire. I don’t know where it goes next if the strains on officers are increased even further.

It is a commonly-held theory that, on balance, police officers who live in the jurisdiction in which they work have a better “feel” for the jurisdiction, and a greater personal investment in the quality of their work. Let’s assume that theory is correct, and let’s assume that Mr. Young has a legitimate concern about municipal employees paying taxes to jurisdictions other than the city. The fact remains that now is not the time to do anything that might it harder for the BPD to hire and retain good, qualified officers.

It just seems that the city generally has a difficult time getting its priorities straight, and this is one of those instances. I have no problem with measures intended to entice officers to live in the city, such as tax credits, but coercive measures are just out of question at this point and may never make any sense.

Finally, Councilman Ryan Dorsey did more harm than good by coming to Mr. Young’s defense.  This is the councilman who in July made the same point as Mr. Young about the loss of revenues, adding that officers who live outside of the city “siphon” city taxpayers’ money and “beat, abuse, and kill the people who actually live here.”

Mr. Dorsey has no concept of the damage that he does to the city (and its taxpayers) by his immature and inflammatory rhetoric. Mr. Young would be well-advised not to follow suit by causing even more backs – including the backs of prospective police officers – to be turned toward Baltimore. Never say things can’t get any worse.

October 19, 2017

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