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Baltimore needs to hire nearly 300 more officers, more than 100 civilians, according to new staffing plan

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison (middle) discussed a broad new staffing plan mandated by the department's consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison (middle) discussed a broad new staffing plan mandated by the department's consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. (Phillip Jackson)

Baltimore Police should hire nearly 300 more sworn officers and 100 civilians, reduce the workload for homicide investigators, more than double the number of internal affairs investigators and increase training, according to a newly released staffing plan.

The recommendations, which could be implemented over the next several years, were made in a staffing plan required by the police department’s ongoing consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. The plan, developed by Alexander Weiss Consulting, is now available for public review and comment through January 13, and a second comment period from January 30 to February 21.

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“The goal is to make sure we improve our capacity in patrol, improve our investigative capacity for really serious investigative assignments that are critically understaffed," Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said in a recent interview.

Harrison said he’s meeting with members of the police officers union next week to discuss the plan, and has been soliciting officer feedback. Harrison said the department and consultants have been working with members of the consent decree monitoring team and the Justice Department on staffing issues.

While all of the recommendations are important, Harrison said hiring more officers is critical to the plan.

“It’s hinged and tied to recruiting, hiring and promotion efforts. The mechanisms are easy to create," he said. "Bringing enough people into the department and retraining enough people to implement this where it doesn’t create a gap in experience... it’s a phased approach over time.”

The agency has stepped up recruiting efforts and launched a marketing campaign over the summer in hopes of adding 300 new recruits next year to the force of 2,460 sworn officers. If all goes well, the 300 would be spread across six recruitment classes in 2020, which are expected to train at a new facility on the University of Baltimore campus.

The staffing report also makes it a goal to strengthen the department’s internal affairs investigations, which is a major focus of reforms called for by the consent decree.

The number of detectives in the Public Integrity Bureau would increase from the current 19 to 45, in an effort to deal with a backlog of internal misconduct investigations. The hope is that a fully-staffed unit of 45 detectives will be able to meet new requirements called for by Harrison and by the consent decree, such as completing certain investigations within 90 days.

The report warned that the department will continue to amass a backlog of cases if it does not have enough detectives assigned to internal affairs.

One of the major areas addressed by the plan involves street patrols, which have long been short-staffed. It requires the department to increase its ranks from about 699 to 805 patrol officers. That would allow officers to respond to calls for service but also to spend 40% of their shifts doing proactive police work, according to the staffing plan.

The plan also calls for adding sergeants and lieutenants, and hiring more than 100 civilians over the next several years to allow officers to do more police work.

"This is a workload model,” Harrison said of the staffing plan. Previously deployment strategies had been largely geography-based.

The recommendations address workload factors such as call volumes, investigative best practices and goals Harrison previously outlined such as a 10-minute response time to calls for service. The department received 290,943 such calls last year.

In response to the recommendations, Harrison said he wants to expand the “Mobile Metro Unit” to “allow for greater coverage and flexibility to respond to major incidents without depleting district personnel.”

The staffing plan recommends increasing the size of the unit, including adding officers from an existing dirt bike unit and others.

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The department also plans to create a “RAVEN Squad” or Reconnaissance and Anti-Violence Enforcement Unit that would receive specialized tactical and intelligence training. That unit would focus on offenders who commit multiple violent crimes, including armed robberies, carjackings and shootings.

The city has seen a substantial increase in shootings and carjackings this year.

Eric Melancon, Harrison’s chief of staff, said it would be an “elite unit” similar to one created in New Orleans, where Harrison previously served as the superintendent of police.

"An enforcement squad that has the ability to get in front of multiple armed robberies that are committed by one person or multiple shootings,” he said.

“We saw year-upon-year reductions” in New Orleans, he said, first in robberies, then shootings “largely in part because we were getting in front of the multiple offenders who were caught up in so much of the violence."

The department’s 50 homicide detectives would no longer be tasked with investigating non-homicide deaths to help reduce caseloads, with a goal of limiting new cases to six a year for each detective. In addition to investigating the city’s more than 300 homicides each year, detectives are currently also responsible for investigating 1,003 non-homicide death cases from 2018, including unattended deaths and overdoses.

In the first seven months of 2019, homicide detectives investigated 565 non-homicide cases.

Under the recommendations, district detectives “with proper training and support” would investigate non-homicide deaths.

Harrison said his vision for the department aligns with many of the recommendations, but he disagrees with some, including recommendations to consolidate districts.

The plan also recommends consolidating some units. It suggests closing the arson and marine unit, and relying on the fire department for those resources “to streamline service delivery and achieve cost efficiencies," it said.

The plan suggests using the SWAT team for “all warrant service-related duties,” which was done in New Orleans Police and Nashville.

“Doing so would ensure predictable, accountable, and reliable warrant service strategies, techniques, equipment, etc.,” the plan said. “From our interviews, we learned the SWAT unit is used frequently to support warrant service efforts, all the more reason to have these activities under one command.”

The staffing plan also recommends disbanding the department’s existing gang unit, which consists of only three officers, who work with jail personnel to track inmates and their influence on the street, as well as the WatchCenter and district intelligence officers.

“Given the low commitment of personnel to this unit, the BPD should consider disbanding it,” the plan says.

The plan also recommends closing the animal abuse unit, reassigning the unit’s one detective elsewhere.

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More civilians would be added to the department’s IT, consent decree implementation, and education and training divisions. The staffing plan recommends hiring additional civilian personnel for building security at the nine police district station houses, police headquarters and City Hall.

Currently, the department has 62 officers assigned to security, which the staffing plan says costs the city $6,000,000 annually.

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