TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) — While touting a year-over-year decrease in violent crime and a clearance rate well above the national average, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski on Monday announced plans to spend more on public safety.

Olszewski said he plans to present a public safety budget to the Baltimore County Council that includes funding for a wellness director, a police-community liaison, eight data scientists, seven forensics experts and four school resource officers.

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“I often safety that in local government, public safety is one of our most important and sacred responsibilities. We have an obligation to keep our residents safe both in their homes and in our communities,” Olszewski said.

He noted that violent crime was down 16% countywide in 2021, a “testament to the hard work of our law enforcement officers,” and pointed to an 81% clearance rate, which he said was “significantly above the national average.”

The county has seen eight homicides so far in 2022, down from 22 this time last year, according to figures provided by police.

While the county executive acknowledged that he was cautiously optimistic about a drop in homicide and violent crime, he said officials are “constantly looking for ways to invest more in that safety and wellbeing of our communities.”

Olszewski’s budget calls for the police department to hire a wellness director and a community engagement liaison, two key positions he said “go to the heart of how we treat our officers and how they interact with our communities.”

“The addition of a liaison to coordinate our engagement efforts in communities across Baltimore County will ensure that we continue to build new relationships and enhance the existing ones,” Police Chief Melissa Hyatt said of the liaison role.

Additionally, with the police department standing up a real-time event center and focusing more on data-driven policing, his proposal calls for the hiring of eight data scientists.

“An investment that demonstrates the depth of our commitment to using data to drive our policing strategies,” he said. “These individuals fully understand the trends happening in our communities and go deeper to help us pinpoint exactly where to target our resources for the most effective, accountable policing possible.”

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The work of the data scientists, Hyatt said, will not only increase transparency through the department’s public-facing data dashboards but also inform the agency’s policing strategies.

“The data scientists that we hope to hire will have both data analysis and technical expertise to allow the department to spot emerging crime trends more quickly, and therefore make our response more nimble,” Hyatt said. “Our commitment to data driven decision making is a proven strategy and these resources will be critical tools to assist precinct commanders.”

The county executive also proposed hiring seven more positions within the police department’s forensics section, an investment that he said will enhance the agency’s ability to solve cases quickly.

“The faster we can solve crimes, the faster we can get criminals off the street,” he said. “These positions will not only help in solving crimes but will likewise help in the prosecution of gun-related crimes.”

Olszewski also said he wants to hire four more school resource officers, who would float between school campuses based on needs and who would support the existing ranks of SROs.

“The job of a school resource officer is much more than simply placing a police officer in a school,” Hyatt said. “…They are teachers mentors, role models, and sometimes mediators to the many students they serve.”

Besides expanding the police department, the county executive said his budget proposal would continue to fund hiring bonuses and other incentives as the agency looks to fill out the agency’s ranks.

“All of these investments will make our already excellent police department even stronger,” Olszewski said. “They will go a long way towards supporting our officers and keeping our neighborhood safe.”

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The county executive said the current class of police recruits is not only the largest they’ve had in recent years but also the most diverse. Details on the class size weren’t immediately available Monday.

Paul Gessler