Baltimore's spending panel on Wednesday unanimously approved $285,000 for city police to hire a Massachusetts-based consultant — the highest of five bidders — to recommend how the department should be run.
Despite the protests of competing consultants and a city councilman, the city's Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, voted 5-0 to hire Strategic Policy Partnership LLC, based in Martha's Vineyard, to develop a "three- to five-year strategic plan" to make the Baltimore Police Department more efficient and improve crime-fighting.
Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chairman of the council's public safety committee, had questioned the need for a consultant and said he was concerned that the department is bypassing lower bidders for a company with ties to former Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, an ally of Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts.
Timothy M. Krus, the city's acting purchasing agent, acknowledged that the chosen consultant submitted the most expensive bid. But he said the company was best qualified to do the job.
"Even though they were the highest price, they were the lowest bidder that we found qualified," Krus said.
Documents show that Strategic Policy Partnership's $285,800 bid, which includes Bratton's consulting firm as part of the proposal, was the most expensive of five proposals the city received.
The other bids were: Public Safety Strategies Group LLC, a public safety management firm in West Townsend, Mass., $240,000; Hillard Heintze, a strategic planning firm from Chicago, $194,000; Ohio-based Berkshire Advisors Inc., $149,500; and Florida-based Law Enforcement Accreditation Consultants, $145,000.
Rawlings-Blake has said she respects Scott's view of the matter, but understands why Batts believes he needs help from outside the city.
"I would like him to have the flexibility and the autonomy to seek the resources that he believes he needs to create a safer city," the mayor said. "I don't believe that nature of the contract is the type where the lowest bid is automatically the one you should go to. This is about making sure we get it right, not necessarily making sure that we save a few bucks on this end."
The mayor emphasized that "an independent panel" reviewed the bids and "chose the consultant that we're going with."
The state has agreed to reimburse the city for half the cost of the contract, police officials have said.
According to its website, Strategic Policy Partnership has worked with the Department of Homeland Security and the New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit and Camden police departments, among others.
The company is chaired by Robert Wasserman, who was formerly a senior executive of several large American police departments, including Boston's and Houston's, and director of public safety for the Massachusetts Port Authority. Wasserman served as an adviser to Bratton when Bratton was police chief in Los Angeles and New York.
The company now has 90 days to assess the department, according to procurement documents.