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Baltimore Police Commissioner welcomes 32 new recruits, while officers union criticizes department retention numbers

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison welcomes 32 new officers to the police academy on Monday March 9. The class will be the first to complete training at the new University of Baltimore location.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison welcomes 32 new officers to the police academy on Monday March 9. The class will be the first to complete training at the new University of Baltimore location. (Jessica Anderson)

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison welcomed 32 new recruits to their first day of their 30 weeks of officer training at the new academy building Monday morning.

“Welcome to your new family. Welcome to your new life, and to the greatest comeback story in America,” Harrison told the group of recruits who stood lined up in gray T-shirts and dark sweatpants in the University of Baltimore gym.

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Harrison and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young welcomed the officers-in-training to the department’s new academy location on the school’s Charles Street campus before the group went on to other orientation activities.

Harrison, who has been Baltimore’s top cop for nearly a year, has been confronted with numerous issues, including rising violent crime and implementing an array of reforms required by a federal consent decree at a time when the number of officers on the force has dwindled. His comments were a reference to a new recruitment campaigned launched in July seeking recruits who want to “Be a Part of the Greatest Comeback Story in America.”

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The department still must hire about 350 more officers to meet demands outlined in a recent staffing plan. But on Monday, Harrison indicated the department was seeing improvements.

“This is a bright day for the city of Baltimore,” he said. “This is hope that our department is growing.”

Hiring new officers in Baltimore is critical. Last month, the judge overseeing the consent decree called the situation dire, noting that the department cannot fulfill critical functions, such as internal affairs investigations, if it cannot beef up numbers.

The department has seen fewer sworn officer separations; a total of 190 left last year. The figure is lower than any other year since 2014. But the department only hired 157 last year, meaning a net loss of 33 officers. The number of new hires was lower than past years.

The police union leadership has said the department is not doing enough to retain officers. In a statement posted to Twitter Monday, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 president, Sgt. Mike Mancuso, said the department has hired 41 officers and lost 70 so far this year.

Mancuso wrote that he expects attrition to become worse in July when many officers become eligible for retirement. This group of officers were the first group required to work 25 instead of 20 years to receive a pension. In 2010, former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration overhauled the city’s pension system, saving $400 million by reducing benefits and raising the retirement age.

Mancuso also said while starting pay for city officers is competitive with surrounding jurisdictions, officers in other jurisdictions will see greater increases overtime compared to those in Baltimore. Officers can stand to make $20,000 to $30,000 more after several years of service elsewhere, he said.

Police officers in Baltimore also face greater challenges.

“Baltimore remains the most violent city in the nation and working here is difficult, at best,” Mancuso wrote.

The class that started Monday will be the first to complete the majority of its training at the new facility after the move from the old training academy building on Northern Parkway in Northwest Baltimore. The aging building had fallen into disrepair and required massive upgrades, officials said.

Harrison said the department also has reduced the amount of time recruits will spend at the academy from 38 to just 30 weeks. Harrison said the department managed to shorten the course by eliminating down-time that was wasted.

While speaking to the recruits, Harrison told them they represented less than 2.5% of all applicants.

“You have made the cut; you have accomplished what 98% of the people who applied did not accomplish," he said. "Please do not take this lightly and please don’t waste this wonderful opportunity to be the servant that God has called you to be, to be the servant the people of Baltimore need.”

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