Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Mayor Proposes Changes to HACA Crime Fighting

In perfect coordination with the topics discussed on this blog, the Mayor today unveiled a proposal to change how the city fights crime in public housing (HACA) areas. Although AP is convinced that the mayor did not act as a result of this blog's objections, maybe I will make a post demanding a $1,000,000 discretionary grant from the city, and let the leaves fall where they may!

The issue is that HACA is a somewhat independent agency. The commissioners are appointed by the mayor, but have to operate under federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines concerning public housing. Apparently the city gives HACA $200,000 per year, which is to be matched equally by HACA (probably through money collected for rent), to total a $400,000 public safety program.

The mayor wants to city to be able to control this program, and is requesting that the $200,000 grant be terminated, and the city spend its own $200,000 protecting crime. A problem, at least as I see it, is that the city does not have the track record to prove that they can do any better of a job at preventing crime. They should be able to, in theory, because they can raise their own police force.

The grant would have to be terminated within the context of the FY 2009 budget.

The mayor also proposes 4 procedural changes:

1. The Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis and the Annapolis Police Department share to outfit each HACA neighborhood with surveillance cameras.
2. HACA and APD share costs for a sub-station program.

3. APD, if HACA agrees, assign undercover police to the area and enhance neighborhood watch training.

4. HACA to implement the community service program for all residents as required by HUD.

My feeling, and I imagine the feeling of HACA as well, is that if the city takes away their grant, then requires HACA to share costs for cameras and a sub-station, then the city had better do a hell of a job policing these areas.

To do this, almost everyone involved advocates filling the 23 vacancies in the department as a start. And when I say almost everyone, I mean all males and females age 1-100, except the mayor and the police chief.

The mayors next request:

Additionally, I am requesting the City's Community and Housing Board to review successful housing programs in other jurisdictions, research opportunities for home ownership and social service needs, and to recommend changes in our federal housing program required to enhance public safety.

I would be appalled if HACA is not doing this already---I am sure that they have studied other jurisdictions and are trying to figure out how to get people to own their homes. And to do the above:

Money will be allocated for a staff consultant to assist in the task.

I have participated in the budget process for the last 2 years, and I cannot tell you where this money comes from. When the budget is made, all requests for money have to go through committee, and be voted on by the city council. The mayor has some discretionary money, but not enough to hire someone else. If the money comes from the "contract services" portion of the budget, it means that the budget process was secretive enough include enough unspent money to hire this person. Not good, not good.

I believe that the city has more 'teeth' when it comes to enforcing laws and preventing crime than HACA does, which leads me to believe that the mayor's proposal COULD BE a good idea. But we have still not seen a commitment to fill the police vacancies--we still do not know how the mayor's plan will improve the situation. We do not need more consultants, or studies. People already know the solutions, or at least better solutions. The mayor needs to listen to these people, many of whom will help for free (that is, without being paid taxpayer money), and commit to implementing their solutions.

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