Pugh wants to cut $5.5 million from Baltimore Police Department budget to send to schools

Mayor Catherine Pugh wants to cut at least $5.5 million from the Baltimore Police Department to help plug a shortfall in the schools budget as part of a developing plan she outlined Wednesday to better control police spending.

Pugh — who is expected to release her administration's first budget next week — said she is putting together a strategy to control police overtime spending, and has directed Police Commissioner Kevin Davis to find cuts in the department's $480 million budget.

She said any savings will be directed to the city school system, which is trying to close a $130 million budget shortfall that officials say could force the layoffs of 1,000 teachers and staff.

Police overtime spending is expected to top $42 million this year. Officials had set aside $16 million for the expense.

"I am going to hold them to a police overtime budget," Pugh said. "I am still looking at their budget currently. Let me just say, $42 million will not be their overtime budget."

Pugh did not say how much money she thinks is reasonable for the Police Department to spend on overtime.

To rein in costs, the mayor said, she is investigating whether the department has enough technology and oversight in place to grant overtime only when necessary and appropriate.

"There has to be some controls, at least at the patrol levels, where we're seeing a lot of our overtime coming in," Pugh said. "We have got to have some restraints there."

Police spokesman T.J. Smith did not say Wednesday how much money police will need for overtime in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"We will have measures in place with an eye toward reducing it," Smith said.

Smith said overtime is needed for a wide variety of reasons, including parades, crime suppression, staff shortages, court appearances and crime scene duties that occur near shift changes.

"Overtime is not simply an 'ask and granted,'" Smith said. "It must be available. An officer signs up and is approved to work the requested overtime."

Smith said the department had not decided what could be cut to cover the minimum $5.5 million the mayor is targeting.

Pugh has ordered an audit of police overtime. She said the city's Finance Department is looking into whether replacing officers in desk jobs with civilian workers would save money. More officers have been shifted to patrol to address spiking violence.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said this week he will look to cut $10 million from the police budget to free up money for schools. He said he would target police overtime, administrative costs and executive protection.

Young has said it is problematic to live in a city that spends more money on policing than on education.

The city's overall operating budget is $2.6 billion. The school system's budget is $1.3 billion, of which the city contributes $265 million. Most of the schools' budget comes from the state.

Plans to cut the police budget come amid the ongoing effort to address the schools deficit. Pugh and Democratic leaders of the Maryland General Assembly have a plan to contribute $180 million in city and state money over the next three years to help fill the gap. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is still considering whether to provide the city with more state aid.

The district has announced plans to reduce to reduce the deficit by $30 million by making cuts to its central office and using reserve funds.

Pugh was asked whether she could find $10 million in savings in the Police Department budget.

"I don't know," she said. "I am not looking at just overtime. I am looking at how we structure the Police Department in a way that is more effective and efficient."

Pugh said she is asking former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, now president of the University of Baltimore, for advice. Schmoke was Baltimore's mayor from 1987 to 1999.

Schmoke said Wednesday he has discussed ideas to control police overtime with Pugh. In their conversation, he said, he noted that some costs are under the control of police leadership, and some — such as unforeseen increases in home invasions or homicides — are not.

"I assured her that this is not a new problem and that many cities have had to deal with this," Schmoke said.

Schmoke said he noted that other cities have reviewed data to find patterns of excessive overtime, coordinated court obligations with prosecutors to minimize the time officers are waiting around in courthouses, and used citations rather than arrests for some misdemeanor offenses to reduce the time officers spend on paperwork.

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