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Did Baltimore really 'unfreeze' 225 police officer positions?

When Mayor Catherine Pugh came into office a year ago, she said one of the first things she did was instruct the police department to unfreeze 225 officer positions.

Pugh says she inherited the frozen positions from former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who ceased hiring for the long-unfilled positions amid tight budgets. But Baltimore was experiencing an increase in violent crime, and Pugh says she believed more officers were needed on the streets.

“I said unfreeze positions and fill every vacancy,” Pugh says.

But did that really happen?

Despite a police budget growing to nearly $500 million this year, city police actually have 21 fewer positions in Pugh’s first budget, not more.

At a recent City Council hearing, a top budget official testified that, while the police department currently has no“frozen” positions, the agency has 225 “salary saved positions.”

“There are no longer any frozen positions,” said Caroline Sturgis, Baltimore’s deputy finance director, on Tuesday. “There are 225 salary saved positions.”

City Councilman Brandon Scott, who is chairman of the public safety committee, noted that the effect of the unfilled positions — whatever they’re called — is the same: fewer officers on the force.

Sturgis testified the agency currently has 125 vacant positions that officials are working hard to fill.

Police say they are doing better with hiring. In 2016, the agency was losing 19 officers per month, but only hiring nine per month.

“Obviously that’s unacceptable,” said Baltimore Police Maj. James Handley.

This year, the agency is losing about 16 officers per month, but hiring 15.

However many police are hired, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he wants more officers on the streets.

“We need boots on the ground,” Young said. “We don’t need people sitting in headquarters in suits. We’re hiring folks who are not on the ground. We need people to be hitting the street. Sometimes we have five or six officers patrolling a district. That’s not enough. It’s not safe for the officers.”

Scott said he wants to see the city school system dedicate a school to training students for police and firefighter jobs.

“We should have a high school that is dedicated to fire and police,” Scott said. “That’s the only way we’re ever going to get there.”

There are currently about 2,500 sworn officers on the force, down from about 3,000 in 2013.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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