The Baltimore Police Department is asking the city for $285,000 to hire a Massachusetts-based consultant — the highest of five bidders — to recommend how the department should be run.
But a city councilman is questioning the need for a consultant. And he says he's 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.
"In these tough economic times, we have to think about saving taxpayer dollars," said Councilman Brandon Scott, who has called for a hearing on the contract.
Strategic Policy Partnership LLC, based in Martha's Vineyard, is the city Police Department's choice to develop a "three- to five-year strategic plan" to make the agency more efficient and improve crime-fighting. The firm is currently working with Bratton, himself a consultant, on a similar plan in Oakland.
If awarded the contract, the company would have 90 days to assess the department, according to procurement documents.
The city's five-member Board of Estimates, which is controlled by the mayor, was to vote on the contract today. But the administration has postponed the vote for a week to consider a protest from another bidder, police officials said.
Documents show that Strategic Policy Partnership's $285,800 bid was the most expensive of five proposals the city received.
The low bidder, Florida-based Law Enforcement Accreditation Consultants Inc., has filed a protest.
"Our firm possesses expertise, experience and credentials equal to or greater than the potential awardee, and our proposed price is over $150,000 less than the potential awardee," wrote Michael M. Somberg, vice president of the company.
The other bids: 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 Law Enforcement Accreditation Consultants, $145,000.
The state has agreed to reimburse the city for half the cost of the contract, police officials have said.
A spokeswoman for Strategic Policy Partnership declined to say whether Bratton would work on the Baltimore contract, as he has in other places. Scott expressed concern about the firm's ties to Bratton.
"We all know that Mr. Bratton is the grandfather of zero tolerance and stop-and-frisk," Scott said, referring to policies in which people suspected of even minor crimes are routinely stopped by police in hopes of curbing violence. "That should worry everybody. We've been there before. That is not a strategy that works in Baltimore."
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.
A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the Police Department would respond for the administration. Anthony Guglielmi, the city police spokesman, said Batts and his chief of staff recused themselves because of connections to multiple firms, not just one.
"They not only know principals in that group but in every group that applied to work with us," he said.
Guglielmi said a team that included Deputy Commissioner John P. Skinner and Maryland State Police Secretary Marcus L. Brown reviewed the bids and recommended awarding the work to Strategic Policy Partnership.
"What the commissioner is looking for is a strategic firm to do a business plan to do a diagnostic review of the entire organization," Guglielmi said.
Scott said he has heard complaints from community members about the need for such consulting services in the first place, arguing that Batts — a 30-year police veteran who has a master's degree and did policy work at Harvard University — was brought in to be an outside set of eyes capable of reshaping the department.
"They don't understand why a brand-new police commissioner who was brought here to look at things with an outside eye now needs someone else to come here and look at things with an outside eye," Scott said.
At a City Council hearing last month, Batts said the consultant's report will ultimately save the city money by fixing inefficiencies. He said the consultant will be asked to tackle long-unresolved issues, from the city's outdated patrol districts to the schedules that officers follow.
"Our [patrol] posts are off balance. I can save the city money. Our deployment practices are inefficient. I can save the city money," he said.
Responding to questions from council members about why he can't oversee such reform personally, Batts likened the effort to "changing a car tire while going 50 miles an hour."
"I have an operational responsibility every day and don't have time to stop and slow down," Batts said. "If we could do it internally, we'd already be efficient."
The company also will be asked to recommend staffing revisions, new tactics for investigations and improvements in working conditions to aid in recruitment and morale, according to a request for proposals.
Council members questioned whether Batts could address so many long-standing issues for the department.
"Give me 18 months," he said with a wink.