The Baltimore Police union advised its members Wednesday to begin sharing any feelings of exhaustion with their supervisors — and documenting the response — amid ongoing personnel shortages in patrol.
In a message to rank-and-file officers obtained by The Baltimore Sun, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 President Sgt. Mike Mancuso suggested the officers had to look out for themselves because the department wasn’t doing it — instead failing to recruit enough officers to outpace attrition and forcing existing officers in the department to work overtime shifts.
“Due to the extensive number of hours that each of you is required to work you are being confronted by sleep deprivation and the loss of the down time necessary to mitigate the stress of our profession,” Mancuso wrote.
He said the department has 500 fewer patrol officers than it needs, and that there are fewer officers manning patrol cars today than there were when Commissioner Michael Harrison started at the department in February.
He said there are 625 today, compared with 660 when Harrison started.
Given that “Baltimore’s long hot summer is now upon us,” Mancuso advised officers to review the policy on officer wellness — which states that “any member who believes he/she cannot continue to properly perform assigned duties due to physical and/or mental exhaustion shall notify a supervisor immediately” — and keep records of any such notifications they make to their supervisors.
“If your health declines to the point of exhaustion, you should contact your personal physician and follow their advice,” Mancuso wrote. “You are only a number to this Department and City, but you are mom, dad, sister, brother and friend to others. Please take care of yourselves!”
Asked about Mancuso’s message to officers, the police department issued a statement saying that the “health of our officers is of paramount importance to everyone in the Department and is one of Commissioner Harrison’s highest priorities.”
It said that the number of officers working patrol cars will return to about 660 when the current academy class finishes field training next week.
And it said it has “worked hard” to reduce the number of officers who are “drafted” into working overtime — that is to say, forced to work it — and limited the amount of overtime that officers are allowed to work.
Earlier this month, Harrison pledged to crack down on officers who exceed the department’s limit of 32 overtime hours a week, saying, “It’s not just the answer to a financial question, but a health-and-wellness question. Are they really performing well?”
The department said 60% of officers working overtime on average shifts have volunteered to do so, and the department has “an extremely robust health and wellness program that we encourage all of our officers to take advantage of, when necessary.”
The department said Harrison “is well aware that it is in everybody’s best interest to ensure that our officers are healthy and rested.”
For years, police officials have acknowledged shortages in patrol and trouble recruiting enough officers to outpace attrition.
On Wednesday, the department said that in the first half of 2019, it had hired 89 new officers — but lost 87, for a net gain of just two.
Officers in recent years also have been convicted of abusing overtime by filing false claims. Officers are routinely among the city government’s highest-paid individuals — earning more than the mayor and some other top officials — thanks to overtime.
Last week, the department launched an investigation after a photograph appearing to show a uniformed officer sleeping in his patrol car began circulating online.
“What we have seen raises serious concerns about public safety, officer health and wellness and officer performance,” police spokesman Matt Jablow said of that incident.
In March, the department responded in a similar way to an Instagram video appearing to show another officer sleeping on the job, and it fired an officer who was found intoxicated and slumped over in his patrol vehicle last October.