During her State of the City speech this week, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said 2017 “will be the first time since 2009 that the Baltimore Police Department’s hiring outpaced its attrition.”
According to data provided by her office to The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday, the net gain was four officers.
That’s not a big number, but it’s a big difference from 2016 (net loss: 114) and 2015 (net loss: 158).
It’s also one of few years in the past 15 where there was a net gain. Between 2002 and 2017, the time frame for which data was provided, there was an overall net loss of 811, with 3,832 departures and 3,021 hires.
The numbers reflect what officials in Baltimore have been complaining about a lot recently: the decline in the size of the Baltimore Police Department in recent years.
The department is still the eighth largest police force in the nation, despite Baltimore not being among the top 25 largest cities. It has an annual budget of about a half-a-billion dollars.
But it’s a lot smaller than it once was, and Pugh and other city officials say it should be bigger. They say increasing the size would cut down on a massive budget item, too: overtime.
Pugh has said the department has about 1,900 active officers, is authorized for 2,800 officers, and should have 3,000 officers. It used to have 3,300, she said.
Department officials have agreed with her, and the police union has said more officers are needed as well.
Some citizens have objected, saying the department is already bloated.
Under its consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, the city is required to conduct a study of its police department and its staffing to determine if it is appropriate.
Police have blamed the department’s smaller work force — and the structure governing officers’ shifts in the current contract with the police union — for a range of problems, including its inability to fill shifts without drafting officers to work overtime.
The department has been spending nearly a million dollars a week on overtime as a result.
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The losses in the number of officers over the years was not entirely due to recruitment failures. In 2014, officers received a 13 percent pay increase as part of a new contract that the city said it would pay for by cutting more than 200 positions.
Still, officials have been lamenting attrition for years, particularly since the unrest of 2015 — which they said inspired an unusual number of officers to retire, move to other police departments or get out of the law enforcement field altogether.
A significant number of Baltimore Police academy recruits set to graduate and become cops on Saturday lack a basic understanding of the laws governing constitutional policing and are being pushed through by the department anyway, according to the academy’s head of legal instruction.