The Baltimore Police Department is seeking an $11.6 million increase in its fiscal 2001 budget, and officials say they hope to use the money for pay raises and to bolster the size of the force.
If approved by the City Council next month as part of the city's $1.9 billion budget proposal, police would have nearly $211 million to spend in the coming budget year, a 6 percent increase from this year's $199 million.
Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris presented the proposal to the City Council's budget committee during a 90-minute hearing Tuesday night, during which he was questioned on everything from buying police cars to finding cheaper hats.
Norris said he wants to bring the department up to 3,500 officers. The force has about 3,200 budgeted positions but is down 250 because of vacancies. The department, which had more than 3,500 officers in the mid-1970s, is barely keeping up with attrition that claims four to 10 officers a month.
Police and budget officials were unable to fully explain how the $11 million would be spent or how many new officers could be hired, because that is contingent on secret contract negotiations with the police union. Officers are seeking a raise, an effort supported by Norris and Mayor Martin O'Malley.
City officers are among the lowest-paid in the state, with a starting salary of $28,404 a year. Most suburban counties, where crime is lower and the streets less dangerous, pay recruits more than $30,000 a year.
Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3, would not comment on the negotiations but said the issue is not whether officers will get a pay raise, but how much.
"I'm optimistic that we will get a fair package," he said.
Norris has said that he wants to conduct an aggressive recruiting drive, but he included no money for that plan in his budget. He said he might seek outside funding help, such as a federal or state grant to pay for advertising and recruitment trips.
The commissioner told council members that a pay increase would help him lure new officers to the city. He noted an advertisement by his own force that says, "A great job for $28,000."
"It's not a great job compared to other counties," Norris said. Pay parity would allow him to use a slogan to compete with the richer suburbs: "Be a big city cop for county pay."