The Baltimore Police Department will begin a new schedule for patrol officers Sunday, finally ditching a work routine for front-line officers that’s blamed for overtime bills and high turnover.
Deputy Commissioner Andre Bonaparte told city leaders this week that the new schedule should give officers more time to engage in “proactive policing” to prevent crime, rather than spending all their time running from call to call.
The new schedule is part of a contract reached Dec. 19 with the police union.
It abandons a system adopted in 2015 of having officers work 10 hours per day, four days a week, in exchange for one based on five 8 1/2-hour shifts with alternating two- and three-day breaks.
The change was planned for the first week of this year, but the Police Department delayed its start for a month because the city’s payroll vendor couldn’t immediately accommodate the new setup.
Police leaders have cast the new schedule as an important step toward improving the beleaguered patrol division, which is home to about 1,000 of the department’s 2,300 officers and has suffered from chronic understaffing. That’s led to officers being forced to work extra hours, in turn creating hefty overtime costs. And it’s left officers exhausted and, officials say, prompted junior officers concerned about the agency’s future to quit.
“That shift is just not conducive to us,” Bonaparte said of the old schedule. “We were never able to meet those staffing numbers.”
Mayor Catherine Pugh, one of the officials Bonaparte addressed Wednesday during a meeting of the Board of Estimates, has made it a priority to get more officers on the streets.
“Our goal is to keep people in patrol for at least four or five years, but that has to be made as great of an opportunity as any other opportunity in the Police Department,” Pugh said.
Bonaparte’s comments came in response to a report by the city auditor that highlighted problems with how the Police Department had tracked patrol officers’ work in recent years.
Patrol officers are supposed to spend a portion of their time on proactive policing, like stopping pedestrians and cars and interviewing people, as well as spending time getting to know the community on their beat. The department reported that in 2016, officers spent 14 percent of their time doing such work, falling short of a goal of 40 percent. In 2017, the goal was reduced to 20 percent, and the department reported officers spent 29 percent of their time on such tasks.
But the auditors said that when they asked for records to back up those numbers, the Police Department couldn’t provide any.
“There is no assurance that reported amounts are accurate and that performance targets were or were not met,” auditor Audrey Askew wrote in a report released Wednesday.
The department accepted the audit’s findings.
“We’re making strides in these areas, we recognize our deficiencies,” Bonaparte said. “A lot of these issues were related to staffing shortages.”
Pugh praised the department’s progress in 2018, the year after the period covered by the audit, and called patrol the agency’s “backbone.”
The delay in implementing the new schedule has rankled union leaders, who instructed officers to file for overtime pay for any hours worked over the 8 1/2 hours in the new agreement.
Matt Jablow, a police spokesman, said the department wouldn’t pay the overtime.
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In a Jan. 3 message to members, police union leaders said they would file a formal grievance over the delay, but it wasn’t clear if that has happened. Sgt. Michael Mancuso, the union president, could not be reached for comment.
The delay also nearly doubled the bill for consultants to help make the switch. Minutes before Bonaparte spoke at the board meeting, the mayor and other officials approved an extra $23,000 to pay Frisco, Texas-based S. Frank and Associates for work on the project.
On top of the problems officials attribute to the schedule, the department has had too few officers assigned to patrol units to make up the numbers commanders want on the street every day. A study required as part of the Police Department’s federal civil rights decree found the department had a 26.6 percent vacancy rate in the patrol division.
City Council members have repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of officers, which has been blamed for driving up overtime spending to close to $1 million per week.
In addition to increasing overall recruitment, officials have also been trying to boost the numbers of city residents who become police officers. The auditor found that in 2016 and 2017, 90 percent of the city residents who applied were rejected.
“Some reasons applicants were rejected included integrity, needed expungement, failed the polygraph, drug use, criminal history, poor driving record, tax fraud and other various reasons,” Askew wrote.
Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.