A tentative agreement between Baltimore and its police union would cut vacant positions from the department while raising officer pay, a shift intended to stop officers from leaving for better-paying agencies.
The proposed three-year contract marks a sweeping change for an agency that has struggled with vacancies as it lags behind nearby Baltimore and Howard counties in officer pay.
Police also said the deal would shift many more officers to patrol units and put more officers on the streets. Key to the agreement is a new work schedule that both City Hall and union leaders say will allow commanders to quickly assign more resources to crime surges without running up overtime.
The existing contract laid out the number of officers who can be deployed per shift, which officials say limits the department's ability to respond to crime trends without asking officers to work late or come in on days off.
"My No. 1 priority is reducing violent crime in the city," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. "I believe this new contract will help us toward that goal."
The contract raises officer pay by at least 13 percent across the board by mid 2015, addressing police officers' No. 1 complaint, according to a recent in-house survey.
"This shows they have support," Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said. "This agreement makes us competitive."
City officials say they have not determined exactly how they will pay for such significant pay increases. Some vacant police jobs will be cut, but it was unclear how many. There are 193 open jobs in the department now.
Rawlings-Blake said the new schedule should cut down significantly on overtime, and that police can use that money for raises. She played down the number of positions being eliminated and said she would release estimates of the proposed cuts.
Baltimore has the nation's eighth-largest police force, with 2,882 sworn officers, and has one of the top ratios of police to residents.
As of 2012, the department had 47 sworn police officers for every 10,000 residents, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reporting figures. Only the District of Columbia, which employs 62 officers per 10,000 residents, ranked above Baltimore. Chicago was next, employing 45 officers.
City officials believe residents will not notice any cuts since a number of officers in various duties would shift back to patrol to bolster that unit's ranks. Police union President Robert F. Cherry said the contract increases the ranks of patrol from 950 officers to 1,200.
"We're very enthusiastic," Cherry said. "Neighbors will see more police in their neighborhoods."
Officers, meanwhile, will experience a better quality of life, Batts said, working four 10-hour days with higher pay.
According to a survey by the Maryland Association of Counties, Baltimore City police officers currently make $59,337 in actual salary compared to $75,253 in Baltimore County, $54,123 in Anne Arundel County and $65,671 in Howard County.
Once promoted to sergeant, a Baltimore County officer makes $102,350 while a city sergeant makes $76,152, the survey shows.
According to the police union, members will vote on the contract May 20.
The proposal calls for a 2 percent retroactive increase this year followed by a 5 percent increase this summer and another 6 percent raise next year. Additionally, officers would see 3 percent raises after 7 and 15 years of service.
"Every time I talk to an officer … they talk about how much the surrounding jurisdictions are paying and it gives them no incentive to stay here," Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said. "Now this gives them an incentive to stay here."
Rawlings-Blake promoted a dip in violence this year, comparing the tally so far to 2011, when the agency saw the homicide count dip under 200. Baltimore has seen 20 percent fewer homicides and more than 50 percent fewer nonfatal shooting this year, compared with 2011.
The city's annual homicide count has risen each year since 2011. Last year, 235 people were killed in Baltimore — the most in four years.
"We have a strategy that is working," Rawlings-Blake said. "This contract is a great complement to that strategy."
The new agreement also reinstates tuition reimbursement for officers who attend college — a provision eliminated in 2009 in a round of budget cuts.
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.