Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner Andre Bonaparte told City Council members Monday that the agency was working on plans to boost hiring and change its overtime culture but continues to struggle with a shortage of officers.
“There were past practices of just open checkbooks within the agency,” Bonaparte said.
At the council’s monthly police oversight hearing at City Hall, police officials said that the department is chronically understaffed — a situation that leaves officers overworked and drives up costs as commanders rely on overtime pay to bolster staffing each day. In June, Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration approved the use of $21 million in excess tax revenue to pay for police overtime that surpassed the city’s budget.
Police officials on Monday also told the council that in recent months more employees have left the department than have been hired and that many officers are unable to work at any given time.
For example, two Baltimore police employees were terminated in August and another 72 were on suspension at the end of the month, said Paula Williams, a police department finance official. The number of suspended employees in August was up nearly 29 percent from 56 in July, police officials said.
Police officials did not provide information on how many patrol officers had been suspended in July. They also did not present any further context to the statistics presented at the hearing. Police spokesman T.J. Smith said it would not be possible Monday night to immediately provide any more information on why so many officers were terminated or suspended.
At the time, officials said the patrol schedule, which involves officers working four 10-hour days a week, needs 1,200 or so officers to work effectively. Before the new assignments, 766 officers were assigned to patrol, though 152 of them could not be deployed because of suspensions, illnesses, vacations and military service.
Almost half of the newly assigned officers were being sent to the Northeastern District and the Central District.
The reassignments brought the total number of officers assigned to patrol to 881, with 729 of them actually available to be deployed.
Bonaparte said that effort was part of a four-point plan to resolve police staffing problems. It also includes hiring more new officers, relying more on civilian employees rather than officers and negotiating a new shift schedule with the officers’ union.