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Cost of hiring Baltimore police officers to patrol special events goes up for the first time in a decade

Baltimore officials voted Wednesday to increase the cost of hiring police officers to work special events outside their normal assigned shifts, approving the first increase in a decade.

The Board of Estimates acted after an audit last year found the fees did not fully cover the costs, leaving the city on the hook for the difference.

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The department had not adjusted its rates since 2011, according to the Board of Estimate’s agenda. The new fees would charge $65 an hour for an officer, $70 for a sergeant, $75 for lieutenants and $56 per marked police vehicle, and a 5% administrative service charge. The fee schedule will take affect for all special event permits that are filed after July 1.

“This is an attempt to provide a more aligned cost recovery schedule for officers, sergeants, and lieutenants that are billed out by the city to vendors through our secondary employment program,” Eric Melancon, the police department’s chief of staff, told board members during Wednesday’s meeting.

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“We want to ensure we are getting proper cost recovery, and being responsive to the city auditor’s recent audit,” he said.

Greg Nivens is the owner and promoter of Drink Eat Relax Events, which has been holding events for more than 20 years, including the Chesapeake Crab, Wine, & Beer Festival and the Baltimore Wine & Food Festival, which attract around 5,000 patrons.

Nivens said he was unaware of the fee changes until he was contacted Wednesday by The Baltimore Sun, but said the cost of officers is an expense that his company factors into ticket prices and is not a big concern.

But Nivens said he’s more frustrated by violent crime in the city, which deters people from coming to the city to attend events.

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“The leaders don’t control the crime, and that causes people not to want to come to the event,” Nivens said. “That to me is a whole lot more detrimental to events, than how much something costs.”

City officials said the increases are needed and in line with their expenses. The audit released last June found, for example, the police department billed organizers of one special event that required 15 officers to staff roughly $8,200, but the actual cost to man the event was closer to $12,000.

Melancon said the current rate is $45 an hour, and is “eclipsed by actual costs of the vast majority of rates of actual overtime.”

During the meeting, Comptroller Bill Henry asked Melancon what other changes the department has made to improve and monitor the collection of fees.

Melancon said the department is required to pay officers overtime, or time and half, for such events, which is negotiated in their union contract.

Melancon said other jurisdictions have a different processes for detailing officers to special events, and that Baltimore Police are “exploring ways to completely outsource this function to a third party vendor.” He said the department also is evaluating different compensation depending on the job instead of a flat fee.

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