Focusing his campaign on the surge in violence that has become the top issue in this election, City Councilman and mayoral candidate Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. is expected to call for an across-the-board 15 percent salary increase for police officers today as well as a significant increase in manpower.
Mitchell, whose most pointed criticism of Mayor Sheila Dixon in recent weeks has been centered on crime, said police not only deserve the raise but that the salary increase would help retain officers who are otherwise lured away to surrounding jurisdictions by higher pay and less dangerous conditions.
"I've talked to officers throughout the city ... who have said they've not seen the morale in the Police Department this low," said Mitchell, who is expected to make his announcement in West Baltimore near the site of a homicide that took place in February. "We're in a crisis in that we need officers out on our streets."
A spokesman said Dixon agrees police deserve a raise but said the administration must balance its desires with the reality of the budget. Dixon is also expected to talk about crime - specifically, police recruitment - at an event today. Crime has become a defining issue in the mayor's race, especially as the number of homicides and shootings in the city has climbed far above last year.
Mitchell and Dixon are both running in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary election, along with a field of six other candidates that includes Del. Jill P. Carter, school system administrator Andrey Bundley and Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr.
City police officers, on average, made about $52,000 a year before overtime according to a database of salary information provided by the city that covers the fiscal year that ended in 2006. On average, police sergeants drew about $67,000 a year and lieutenants made about $77,600.
For the fiscal year that ended July 1, the city budgeted $220 million for Police Department salaries overall. That includes command and support staff and other nonpatrol positions. When only field operations, investigations and traffic divisions are considered, the payroll was just over $184 million. Mitchell's pay raise proposal would add about $27.6 million to that cost.
That price tag does not include the cost of additional benefits, such as retirement, that are based on salary. City officials also note that firefighters have a parity clause in their contract that may also entitle them to a raise if the police received one.
Mitchell, who will unveil the proposal at Calverton Road and Baltimore Street, said he also wants the city to hire 250 more officers on top of the number of positions that are funded in the budget but vacant. City officials said there are about 140 funded but vacant sworn police positions.
Mitchell said he would pay for his proposal through a variety of sources, including: overtime that has been spent by the Police Department in past years, federal grants, a pay freeze in the mayor's office, expedited sales of city-owned property and a more efficient government overall.
But because police overtime has been funded in recent years with money leftover by the high number of police vacancies, that money would ostensibly not be available for other uses - such as salary increases - if the department was fully staffed. It is also not clear how much money can reasonably come from tightening the city's procurement process.
"The reality is, I'd like to put an ice cream machine on every corner, but we have to balance people's wants and desires with fiscal reality," said Anthony McCarthy, Dixon's spokesman. "It's easy when you manage a staff of two and a budget of probably a couple of hundred dollars to propose a pay increase at that level."
The head of the city's police union argued that recruits are being trained in the city and then taking jobs elsewhere in the region for higher pay. Paul M. Blair Jr., president of Baltimore's Fraternal Order of Police, said he would obviously support a pay increase for officers.
Blair said the city has recruited 461 officers in the past two years but has lost 532 in that same period - a net loss of 71. Relations between the mayor's office and the union - which are expected to negotiate a new contract this year - have soured in recent months.
"The morale in our police agencies is probably the lowest it's been since the police strike of 1974," said Blair, referring to the historic police walkout that took place that year. "There are not enough police to go around. ... We are so dramatically short."