BPD moving 115 officers to patrol to boost community presence, fight OT surge

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Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr

The Baltimore Police Department is shifting 115 officers to patrol shifts this week to reduce vacancies in each district and “have an increased presence on the street,” Acting Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said Wednesday morning.

“This is not the end all. We still have a lot of work to do,” the city’s top cop said, standing alongside Mayor Catherine Pugh. “But with patrol being a priority, with our crime fight being a priority, we see the need to move these personnel.”

All of the officers will be moved to patrol shifts by Sunday, he said. They’re coming from a number of units, including BPD’s Criminal Investigations Division, district detective units (DDUs), which are being dissolved, and the “10th district,” a mobile unit of officers created during the brief tenure of Darryl De Sousa.

No officers are being taken from BPD’s Homicide and Internal Affairs divisions, and the move actually adds 10 officers to the Citywide Shootings division, Tuggle said.

The department presently has 614 officers assigned and able to work patrol shifts out of nearly 3,000 employees—far below the 1,200 or so patrol officers that officials have said BPD needs to police effectively. Another 152 officers are assigned to patrol, but they’re currently out on medical or military leave, vacation or suspension, Tuggle said.

The change will bring the total number of working patrol officers up to 729.

It should also reduce overtime hours worked by police, Tuggle noted. OT spending has surged recently, due in part to understaffing within BPD. The Sun reported last month that as many as 42 percent of officers who worked patrol shifts in May logged OT. The city drew $21 million from its coffers—from excess tax revenue, the Board of Estimates said—to cover OT overruns from this fiscal year.

The Baltimore City Council is now calling monthly “accountability meetings” with BPD to address budget issues. Pugh had also promised an audit of police OT amid the fallout of the Gun Trace Task Force case.

Councilman Leon Pinkett, who represents the 7th District in West Baltimore, told Baltimore Fishbowl he hopes the changes are permanent, not merely temporary.

“I hope that this is a part of the police department’s strategy moving forward on how to deal with not only providing public safety, but also addressing the impacts on overtime and overtime spending,” he said.

Tuggle said without the transfer of 115 officers, each of the city’s nine police districts faces 18 patrol vacancies per shift—a statistic he called “really disturbing.”

“Not only does that not serve the city well, but it doesn’t serve our police officers well in terms of them having to consistently work overtime,” he said.

Moving the 115 officers over to patrol should reduce the number of vacancies per shift to four.

Aside from the taxpayer burden of OT, Pugh said those extra hours also hurt the department and city because they drain the officers. “Drafting police officers to work 15 hours, you can’t be your best person,” she said.

Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said today’s announced changes are a “step in the right direction,” but also pointed to working conditions of officers on patrol shifts. Police currently have a shift schedule “baked in” to their short-term union contact, he said, but a new schedule has yet to be negotiated for the union’s next agreement with the city.

He also said police districts must be redrawn to achieve a more equitable population balance, and that the city could redirect more calls for service through online and telephone reporting.

“Patrol officers in Baltimore are not actually patrol officers,” Scott said. “They’re call takers… They don’t have a lot of time in any or most cases to go out and proactively patrol.”

Both Pugh and Tuggle spoke of the need to re-prioritize the importance of patrol officers, something that officials have been preaching for the last several years to boost police-community relations. Pugh referenced a recent visit to South Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood, where residents called for more patrol officers to maintain a presence in their community.

“We don’t look at patrol as a prestigious area to be… let’s let people who are in patrol know that this is a great position to be in,” Pugh said. “This is what the community needs, and it is about developing a relationship.”

Pinkett vouched for that need in his district.

“I hear on a daily basis from constituents who notice the lack of officers that are on patrol,” he said.

A lack of community-based policing hurts responding officers as well, he noted. “It’s not to the officers’ benefit to not have adequate backup and support when they’re on patrol.”

The mayor said she hopes to keep adding more officers to address the agency’s staffing shortage. Last year, the department broke a recent trend of attrition by adding even just a few more officers–“I think we were only up by like 10 or 11,” Pugh said–than the number who left the force.

“Not only do we have to continue to hire, we have to continue to backfill,” Pugh said.

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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