Nearly a quarter of the command staff of the Baltimore County Police Department is expected to retire this year, some beginning as early as next week, according to police Chief Jim Johnson.
Johnson confirmed the impending retirements Thursday. He said the departures could also lead to an internal restructuring of the department.
"I am extremely grateful for their service to this department," Johnson said in an interview with Patch. "They have shaped this organization for decades. This is a sad moment for me."
Johnson attributed the seven retirements he is expecting to the County Council's recent passage of an early retirement benefit.
"I don't begrudge them their retirement," Johnson said. "I understand they're taking advantage of an incentive the county has made available to them."
On the expected list of retirees include:
- Majors Tom Canning and Rob Dewberry, who oversaw eastside and westside patrols, respectively.
- Cockeysville precinct Capt. Marty Lurz.
- Parkville precinct Capt. Tom Busch.
- Capt. Barry Barber, community resources, who had been in charge of the Police Athletic League before it transferred earlier this year to the county Department of Recreation and Parks.
- Capt. Jeff Rosier, personnel section.
- Capt. Drake Roche, county night commander.
Under the early retirement plan, county employees can apply for it between Oct. 31 and Dec. 31.
If accepted, employees can be credited for up to three years of additional service to their pension plan. The agency must then permanently close out the position or a similar one.
Johnson said none of the changes will affect the number of officers on the street.
"I'm committed to doing everything I can to make sure that the decreases in crime we've enjoyed over the last few years continue," Johnson said.
The chief said the departures could save the department as much as $1 million in salaries and benefits in the current budget year and $2 million in the budget year that begins July 1.
He called the retirements "a dynamic situation" and said some on the list who said they were planning to retire next week had not officially filed their paperwork.
Other officers could apply for the benefit or some might reconsider, he said.
One of those was Busch, a 37-year veteran who commanded the Parkville precinct for the last two years. He announced his intentions to leave during a Tuesday night meeting of his area Police Community Relations Council.
"This is my last meeting," Busch said Tuesday night. "It's been a pleasure serving you guys."
He declined to comment further on Thursday saying he had not yet filed his final retirement papers.
Lurz, a 39-year veteran who spent the last 15 in the Cockeysville precinct, expressed similar gratitude to the community.
"It was the community that really made us successful up here," said Lurz, who was known for using an extensive email list to talk directly to community leaders about ongoing crime trends. "I could put a cop on every corner but we can't do the job everyone expects us to do if people don't talk to us."
Lurz, 57, laughed as he recounted using the list to pit communities against each other to reduce the incidents of homes burglarized because doors and windows were left unlocked.
At the time, those types of burglaries were more than one of every three that his precinct investigated. Lurz sent out emails to the neighborhood associations in his area challenging them to lower burglary numbers by competing against other communities.
In the end, Lurz said the rate of burglaries stemming from unlocked doors and windows dropped to just 12 percent of all cases.
Johnson said that none of the precincts losing a captain will be combined with other nearby precincts. Instead, the chief said he will name interim commanders and hopes to have permanent replacements in as little as 60 days.
The retirements do leave open the door to other management changes.
"I'm studying the possibility of restructuring the department," Johnson said.
One possible option is eliminating the three colonels in the department in favor of creating a deputy chief of police.
Johnson acknowledged the option was on the table but said nothing had been decided.
"It's too early to talk about that right now," Johnson said.
In May, Johnson warned the County Council about an impending "massive loss of institutional knowledge" he expected in October or November.
In an interview Thursday, Johnson said his comments came without foreknowledge of an early retirement incentive.
"The brain drain is of great concern to me," Johnson said. "We are like the military and we cross-train our officers so that they can do the job of the person above them. We've been planning—succession planning—for years.
"We have a deep bench of very talented people ready to take on new roles and responsibilities," said Johnson.