"He's excited," he said. "He feels it's a privilege to wear the uniform of the Baltimore Police Department."

Police say the officers will help fill about 200 sworn vacancies. Another 260 sworn staff positions are empty due to suspensions, military or medical leave. For this fiscal year, police project spending $23.5 million for overtime after budgeting $20 million.

Police brass blamed vacancies on the lack of competitive salaries. While the department's starting salary is competitive with other jurisdictions at $43,000 a year, other agencies pay more as officers climb through the ranks, according to a salary survey. Baltimore County, for instance, pays a sergeant $101,000 compared to $76,000 in Baltimore City.

To make up the shortage, the department recruits more aggressively than ever, Guglielmi said. Officials aim to put four classes through the academy a year, each averaging between 35 and 50 trainees.

They hold recruiting campaigns at area colleges and universities, and visit communities to encourage high schoolers to become cadets and urge even younger kids to become police explorers. They travel to employment fairs and recently had a recruitment table at the city's gay pride event.

Officials also heavily recruit military veterans, expediting their applications, and partnering with groups such as the Armed Forces Foundation and Operation Homefront.

They lean heavily on the cachet associated with becoming a Baltimore police officer. Baltimore's police department is one of the largest in the country, with about 3,100 sworn officers. Few departments nationwide can boast the on-the-job special operations and investigative experience many officers acquire — a fact burnished in popular culture by shows such as "The Wire" and "Homicide: Life on the Street."

"If you're looking for big city policing, there's no better place you want to be than Baltimore," Guglielmi said. "This is a tough job. You get the full dinner here."

That's what family members said drew Cook to join the police academy from New Jersey, where his fellow class member Bruno is also from. Bruno joined because agencies in his home state and Florida, where he also applied, didn't have vacancies, his cousin said.

Luring applicants from out of state is another way Baltimore police have been successful recruiting in recent years. The department's hiring has increased from 171 officers in 2010 to 202 in 2011 to 217 in 2012, Guglielmi said. As of May, police have hired 72 officers this year.

But the hiring isn't enough to make up for retirements or defections for better paying opportunities. While the department's reputation attracts new recruits, it also lures other jurisdictions to poach officers after a few years of big city experience. Just this week, Lt. Col. Ross Buzzuro, a top commander and 28-year veteran, was hired as Ocean City's police chief.

Officers from out of state also often leave the department, when they decide to return closer to home after a few years and take jobs at agencies where they grew up.

Batts mentioned that during his speech Friday, saying he knows Baltimore police's academy and patrol positions offer graduates an excellent "training ground." But he reminded the class that he believed they weren't just taking an oath to serve and protect but to serve and protect people here.

"I expect you to keep your word and your commitment to this city," the police commissioner said.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justingeorge

An earlier version of this article gave the incorrect starting salary for a Balitmore City police officer. The yearly salary is about $43,000.