When a shooting occurred in broad daylight in early November, two hours after Annapolis police announced a homicide arrest, officers knew they were in for a long night.
While on-duty officers worked additional hours investigating the brazen shooting on Clay Street, off-duty officers were called in to strengthen the city’s police presence in hopes of preventing further violent crime. Over the next eight hours, two more shootings occurred on Tyler Avenue and President Street, injuring a man and teenager in separate incidents. Officers arrested and charged a juvenile for one of the shootings the same night.
In a relatively quiet year, a cyclical upswing in gun crime hit Annapolis at a time when the department faced one of its steepest staffing shortages in nearly two decades.
The shortage left commanders struggling to fill patrol shifts at minimum levels and forced officers to work constant overtime. Patrol officers were often called back to work on their days off, sometimes even on scheduled vacations, to fill open shifts. By the time November arrived and gun violence abounded, officers were burnt out.
“[Staffing]has to rank amongst the lowest it’s been in years,” said Annapolis Police Chief Ed Jackson in a January interview. “It’s been a challenge.”
Whether staffing levels are the lowest in the department’s recent history is unclear, although the department did experience a severe labor shortage in the early 2000s when it operated with less than 100 sworn officers.
The department is currently authorized to employ 124 officers to police a 7.2-mile area home to 40,900 residents. Lt. Dave Miguez, who oversees the administrative services division, said in a statement Wednesday there is “no way we can give a concrete date/year as to when officer positions were at full capacity,” but anecdotally, it’s been “a very long time.”
Today, Annapolis police have a staff of 102 sworn officers. Mayor Gavin Buckley has responded by introducing this month a $25 million police budget for the next fiscal year. The proposal would increase police funding for a second year, raising its allocated funds by about 14% from $22 million to $25 million. A majority of the funds are earmarked for employee salaries and benefits and to comply with a package of policing reform laws enacted in 2021.
In January, Jackson moved to take the pressure off his exhausted staff by reshuffling the department structure to add manpower to the patrol section, which he considers the backbone of the force.
Capt. Justin Klinedinst, who leads the 40-person patrol division, said the reorganization is meant to “plug holes” in patrol ranks caused by vacancies. The changes helped mitigate health and safety risks, for both officers and the public, associated with tired police, Klinedinst said.
To fill a minimum 10-person patrol shift, Klinedinst estimated that multiple officers volunteered or were called back to work about twice a week on average, and even that stopgap periodically fell short of acceptable levels. The practice of drafting — calling officers in on their time off — increased during the last four months of 2021 when officers stopped volunteering for overtime shifts, he said.
“We had to do something to try and fix the stress that we’re putting on the officers,” Klinedinst said.
The reliance on overtime resulted in the city spending $1.2 million on overtime pay during the 2021 fiscal year, which ended last June, about $120,000 less than it spent on overtime during the prior year.
Among the changes, small units were merged into the patrol division, including a two-person bike unit and two officers from the K9 division. Although the department is still understaffed with 22 vacancies, Jackson said the temporary addition of eight officers from other units has provided some relief for patrol. Each patrol officer responds to an average of 15 calls for service each day.
Jackson also promoted several supervisors to higher ranks and directed them to command units that lacked lieutenants and captains. Capt. Amy Miguez, who previously commanded the night patrol shift as a lieutenant, now leads the criminal operations division. And Lt. Kevin Krauss, who previously oversaw community outreach, was transferred to command the criminal investigation unit in Miguez’s division.
Rhonda McCoy, a former Baltimore police major and a current civilian employee, will lead the professional standards division, which oversees internal investigations of officer misconduct.
Despite Annapolis police operating with the smallest force it’s had in roughly 20 years, crime did not increase in the city. It dropped.
The city experienced less violent and property crime from January to November of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020 and 2019, according to police department data. The most common crime in Annapolis is theft, and crime rates tend to hover around the same levels each year. Five people were killed in 2021 compared to the city’s six homicides in 2020. All five homicides in 2021 were closed by arrest.
Shootings in Annapolis were infrequent — an average of 2.5 shootings happened every month — before a flurry of gun crime in the fall. Between October and November, police recorded 17 gun-related incidents, including a homicide. Four shootings were nonfatal and 12 shootings did not result in injuries.
As homicide rates have spiked nationwide, the rate of property crime has continued a steady decline, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2020, the most recent data available. But county residents, particularly respondents living in Annapolis, have reported crime as the most pressing problem in their neighborhoods, according to a recent survey from Anne Arundel Community College.
But the perception is not correct.
Buckley, who touts an overall 8% reduction in crime in Annapolis in 2021, including a 29% decline in shootings and 31% drop in robberies, credited Jackson’s philosophy of strengthening relationships with the community and good detective work for the city’s reduced crime rate.
But behind those crime statistics are frustrated officers working hours of overtime, said Mike Wilson, a spokesman for the Annapolis police union UFCW Local 400. And disputes over proper overtime pay have further eroded morale in the understaffed department, Wilson said.
The union is currently negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the city. The city’s projected $25 million budget could be higher depending on the outcome of the contract negotiations.
The starting salary for lateral and entry-level officers in Annapolis is $51,600 with a $1,000 signing bonus. New recruits at the Maryland State Police and Anne Arundel County police, in comparison, start at a $55,000 annual salary, while Baltimore police start at $60,000.
Anne Arundel County police, with a force of 770 sworn officers, operated with a 98% staffing level in 2021, compared to Annapolis’ 87% staffed force. County police have a $172 million budget and recently used a state grant to create an $18,800 promotional recruitment video featuring department helicopters and its remodeled $18.8 million training center. Plus, new recruits receive a $5,000 signing bonus.
“We think that’s part of what the problem is with retaining and attracting new officers,” Wilson said. ”The overall pay situation.“
And Annapolis police are losing employees to attrition just as fast as they can fill positions. Twelve officers were hired in 2021. About 15 officers, the size of nearly two patrol shifts, retired or resigned from various units in 2021, including two officers who were charged with criminal offenses.
Since January, five officers left the department and eight were hired, but it takes months for new recruits and lateral hires to complete training before they can rotate to a patrol shift.
Annapolis police commanders are divided on the reason their ranks are so low, but say a combination of factors contributes to the staffing shortage. Jackson pointed to a national labor shortage in law enforcement, and Det. John Murphy, the department’s recruiter, cited higher salaries and signing bonuses in neighboring jurisdictions that better attract high-quality candidates from a depleted applicant pool.
Murphy says the department is getting between 50 and 60 applications a year now for entry-level positions compared to 120 to 130 in 2018.
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“A lot of that also has to do with COVID. A lot of people aren’t out here looking at this job, I believe,” he said.
The virus also has impacted the number of existing police officers. COVID-19 was the leading cause of death for active-duty officers in the United States in 2021 and 2020, according to a report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
When a rash of COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant spread throughout the Annapolis Police Department in December, it further strained a thin staff by putting up to 20 officers out of service.
Jackson, who believes younger job seekers view policing as a “high risk, low reward” career, said one of his top priorities this year is to recruit more officers and retain current staff. He plans to ask for more funding in the next budget to reach that goal. Buckley is prepared to agree.
“Although we’re small, we’re the capital city,” Jackson said of the police force in an interview Tuesday. “And so we have to make it attractive. We have to have some semblance of not only pay and benefits, but we have to have competitive training. … Those are the kind of things that I have to make sure that we’re on top of every day or at least to try to come up with ideas that will keep us competitive with surrounding jurisdictions.”
In the past three budget cycles, police have received the most dollars of any city agency. The 196-person department also employs the largest number of city workers, counting both civilian personnel and sworn officers in specialty units, such as homicide detectives and members of the SWAT team.
Police leaders will meet with the City Council’s finance committee Monday to discuss its future funding.