Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle (left) and Capt. Derek Loeffler. Still via livestream from Baltimore Police Department/Facebook.

Responding to a report this week about the Baltimore Police Department’s apparent failures to fill hundreds of patrol positions, as well as a net decline in the number of sworn officers over the last year, officials today said a recently implemented shift change and an uptick in applications from recruits should help boost patrol ranks.

Acting Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle, now in his final days helming the department before Michael Harrison takes over next week, said a new shift arrangement that began on Sunday will allow BPD to schedule two-thirds of its patrol workforce in a day, up from 50 percent before.

And the new schedule, provided for under the city’s November 2018 contract with police union FOP Lodge 3, has already helped to reduce drafting—in which officers are taken from other units to work patrol—by 26 percent and overtime by 48 percent since it took effect on Sunday.

“We’re certainly headed in the right direction,” Tuggle told reporters.

BPD has roughly 2,300 sworn officers, though Mayor Catherine Pugh has said the city budgets to pay around 2,800 of them. And while she and police officials have pointed to increased applications and growth in the ranks over the last year, including in her 2018 State of the City address, data obtained by The Sun this week indicates the department actually lost 36 sworn officers in 2018 when accounting for retirements and other attrition factors.

Tuggle acknowledged the drop, but lamented that there’s a “continued focus on the people leaving the police department… but we’ve got a recruitment effort as well.” Applications are up, he said—so much so that he’s suspending a departmental practice of providing background investigations for other agencies’ potential hires.

“We are severely challenged in terms of conducting those background investigations” for BPD applicants alone without having to conduct them for other agencies, he said.

Some confusion remains over conflicting figures presented by the agency about newly increased patrol capacity. The new schedule provides for five eight-hour shifts per week instead of four 10-hour shifts for a patrol officer. Pugh said this week that it will allow for 25 percent more officers to work those shifts, though numbers presented by police during a City Council hearing last night indicated there will be 423 officers able to work patrol, up from 406 during the old four-day, 10-hours-a-day shift arrangement. That’s an increase of only 4 percent, reporters pointed out.

Asked about the discrepancy, Tuggle and Capt. Derek Loeffler did not provide a clear explanation, but maintained there will be an increase in patrol officers deployed at any given time. Loeffler said how many would vary depending on how many are not scheduled due to leave or training.

Tuggle said he expects police will be able to boost those numbers further in 2019 with academy classes and increased bandwidth to process background checks and applications.

“We’d like to see our training capacity increased. Again, we’re short across the board. We can’t get around that except by getting more people in.”

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...