City leaders are planning to offer police officers, firefighters and sheriff's deputies a $2,500 a year break on their property taxes if they own a home in the city. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)
The Baltimore Police Department has hired 144 new officers so far this year — the first time in years that hiring has outpaced the number of officers leaving, Commissioner Kevin Davis said Monday.
Davis said the latest figures should convince people it's not true that people don't want to work for the department, which is embarking on sweeping changes mandated by a federal a civil rights consent decree.
"There's rumors out there and urban legends out there about no one wants to come to Baltimore, no one wants to be a Baltimore cop," Davis said. "That's all really a bunch of B.S."
Recruitment plummeted after Freddie Gray died from injuries received in the back of a police vanin 2015 and six police officers were indicted in the 25-year-old man's death. Departures also ticked up. None of the six officers was convicted.
In 2016, the gap between recruitment and departures closed, but the year still ended with 110 more officers leaving the department than joining it.
Those years followed long stretches in which recruitment didn't keep pace with attrition, according to police data, and 2009 was the last year that more officers were recruited than departed.
Davis described the figures after taking part in an announcement of city legislation that would give police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and sheriff's deputies a $2,500-a-year break on their property taxes if they buy a home and live in the city. The program would cost about $2 million a year, according to legislative analysts. Costs would rise if the tax break resulted in more workers' buying homes in the city.
Fewer than a fifth of the police department's officers live in Baltimore. Officials have been trying to raise those numbers, believing it could lead to better policing.
"It means you're going to the grocery store, you're going to the post office, you're going to church, your kids are going to local schools," Davis said. "It can't help but connect police officers to the community they serve in a better way."
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Davis said the police department thinks most officers decide about where to live when they're still being trained in the academy. The department is working with Live Baltimore, an organization that encourages people to live in the city, to hold Pizza in the Precinct events in which trainees get to know city neighborhoods.
Six of the City Council's 15 members attended the announcement of the tax break legislation. The measure would need to pass the council to become law.
Councilman Brandon Scott, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said people who live in city neighborhoods would be more invested in keeping them safe. He also suggested extending the property tax credit to teachers, "so we can continue to attract more people into the city."