Police to Bolster Neighborhood Patrols Following Reports of 2016 Reduction

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Courtesy Baltimore Police Department/Facebook

The Baltimore Police Department is shifting 100 officers to neighborhood patrol units in an effort to improve its community policing situation, a response to reports on their end-of-year staffing numbers and a subsequent letter from the police union pointing the finger at the department.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Mayor Catherine Pugh convened a press conference on Friday afternoon to discuss the planned staffing changes. The announcement gave the Mayor and Davis a chance to respond to reports about reduced community patrol assignments in 2016, as well as a letter from Gene Ryan, president of the police union FOP Lodge 3, that accused the department of underreporting its staffing issues from last year and not following a four-days-on-shift, three-days-off schedule stipulated in their 2015 collective bargaining agreement.

Davis said today that police will pull 100 additional officers from various departments and assign them to neighborhood patrol units. “Our responsibility to our community begins and ends with our patrol officers,” he said, later adding that they will encourage more officers to get out of their cars to introduce themselves to community members.

Police data released earlier this week in accordance with state law showed a seven-percentage point drop in the number of neighborhood patrol assignment for most of 2016 compared to the year before. Police spokesman T.J. Smith told the Baltimore Fishbowl on Tuesday that the drop was in part due to an increase in robbery detective assignments, as well as scheduling circumstances and a shortage of officers.

FOP President Ryan stirred the pot by making public a letter to Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector in response to his story on the police department’s end-of-year figures. Ryan accused the department of overshooting the number of officers assigned to patrol districts by saying 999 officers were out on neighborhood patrol in most of 2016; Ryan said the number of full-time officers assigned to sector patrol was really 700.

The union president also wrote that the criminal community is aware that understaffing situation “makes us inefficient” and said, “Our members can only do so much and, at this point, the Baltimore Police Department is at the tipping point of being unable to protect the City and its citizens”

Mayor Pugh said she was surprised to hear Ryan’s criticisms, given that he had only wished her a Happy New Year when they last met and had not brought up the staffing situation. Davis, meanwhile, said he and others in the department found the “tipping point” remark to be offensive, and said the perceived discrepancy in the numbers “should have been resolved with a phone call or a meeting.” He pointed out that police had included sergeants and lieutenants assigned to patrol districts in the year-end figures, but didn’t offer much other explanation for why the figures were so disparate.

Davis addressed Ryan’s criticism of police not adhering to their scheduling agreement in the union contract with a quick explanation. “Your shift plan is only as good as your capacity to staff it,” he said. He also said it’s uncommon for shift schedules to be negotiated in collective bargaining agreements, anyway, and that the four-days-on, three days off schedule would not possible to staff with the current supply of officers.

Pugh and Davis also used the announcement as a call to action for hiring more officers in 2017. The mayor said city residents need to “step up” and come to work for the department. Davis pointed out that police are relaxing their rules for limited past marijuana use among recruits, which he said is an issue that oftentimes keeps young people from being able to join the force.

The department needs those recruits to help it get back to a practical staffing level. “The fact is we’re still recovering from the attrition that happened in 2015,” Davis said, referring to the large number of department members who retired after the post-Freddie Gray unrest.

Davis also said BPD in 2017 will be dedicating full-time teams to specific zones in Baltimore with high crime and will focus more on a narrowed list of “trigger pullers” responsible for a large share of Baltimore’s violent crime and the powerful Black Guerilla Family gang operating in the city.

Ethan McLeod
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