Mayor Catherine Pugh didn’t seem fazed when asked Wednesday about the unanimous rejection to transfer $21 million in police overtime spending by the Baltimore City Council’s budget committee.
“It’s already spent,” she told the media during her weekly press conference.
That is indeed the case. As The Sun‘s Luke Broadwater explained Monday, the vote was largely symbolic, meaning “the city’s financial books will not be reconciled for the previous fiscal year.”
Even so, it represents a shot across the bow by members of the council.
“This is a clear message that the status quo is not going to work anymore,” City Councilman Brandon Scott, chairman of the council’s public safety committee, told the paper.
Police were budgeted $16 million for overtime spending in the fiscal year that ended last month, and ended up spending $47.2 million.
Speaking today, Pugh said the issue can be traced back to hiring freezes before she took office and an unsustainable attrition rate from when her administration began.
“People aren’t working overtime just because they want to,” she said. “They’re working overtime because they’re drafted.”
She invited “anyone” to attend a roll call at a police district to see how few officers are being sent out to patrol the streets. Later, she invited the City Council explicitly to attend meetings of CitiStat or the Violence Reduction Initiative at the police department “so they can understand what’s happening in the city as it relates to violence and the need for police officers on our streets.”
While crime is trending down, she noted, reducing it further would require more officers.
Even with more classes coming from the academy, Pugh said it would take three to five years to recover from the freezes and reach the number of officers needed. The department is authorized to have 2,800 officers, but falls short of that number by several hundred members and has 300 to 400 people on light duty or sick leave, she said.
Acting Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle recently shifted 115 officers to patrol shifts, a move he said would increase the department’s presence while also cutting into overtime costs. But even as the BPD undergoes needed reforms about how it polices as part of the consent decree with the Department of Justice, a more robust police force is needed, said Pugh. Tuggle’s plan is only a temporary fix.
“That gives more to our police department, but certainly still not enough,” she said.