Baltimore City Council concerned by police overtime spending, which is expected to be $48.63M for fiscal year

The Baltimore Police Department again expects to spend millions of dollars on overtime this year, but Commissioner Michael Harrison has pledged increased oversight to curb costs.

The department has spent $33.67 million on overtime since the fiscal year began July 1, and expects to spend a total of $48.63 million by its end on June 30, according to projections the agency provided to members of the City Council’s budget committee.

Police overtime costs — driven by staffing shortages — have been a persistent problem for the city. Last fiscal year, the department spent $47.2 million on overtime after budgeting $16 million.

Councilman Leon Pinkett questioned Harrison at the council budget hearing Tuesday night about this year’s increased costs, and expressed concern that the projections could continue to increase by the end of the fiscal year. The monthly council oversight hearings, he noted, were started after overtime expenses had risen consistently.

The department has attributed the overtime cost overruns to a shortage of patrol officers, shortfalls in recruiting and the former patrol-shift schedule that had officers working 10-hour shifts four days a week. A city audit last fall also found the department lacked the internal controls necessary to prevent fraud and waste in accounting for hours worked.

In February, the department implemented a new patrol-shift schedule, approved by the police union in November, that switched officers to working five days of 8 1/2-hours shifts with alternating two- and three-day breaks.

“We should see cost reductions,” Harrison said.

While the newly shift schedule should produce savings, he cautioned that the savings would only go so far.

“What I wanted to make the council aware of is, when we talk patrol, it was really one portion of the department, but overtime was being spent across the department,” he said.

The new schedule affects only patrol officers. Only 856 patrol officers are on full duty, according to the department data.

Much of the department’s overtime costs are tied to investigations.

Harrison said the department remains “undermanned. Caseloads are still too high.”

He said he plans to create a system for overtime and retrain staff to make sure only necessary costs are being approved.

“We need to build systems of accountability to where we take an allotment of overtime and assign it based on mission-specific objectives,” he said.

Harrison said he also wants to conduct an overall strategic plan of civilianization, which would free up more sworn officers to work on the street. Work on that front already was underway before he came to Baltimore, he said.

“The overall goal is to be a force multiplier,” he said. “But it’s partly professionalizing the agency and putting the correct people in the positions over the long haul so it’s sustainable.”

Councilman Brandon Scott said “implementation of the civilianization plan is critical for us.” Council members previously recommended more non-sworn police employees, he said.

Scott said he’s also pleased to see Harrison is working toward a complete evaluation of the department’s needs.

“Everything about the department has to be looked at,” he said. Only after an evaluation can needs be filled, Scott said.

The department still has overall shortages. Last year, the department hired 184 new officers but lost 220 through attrition. This year, 40 new officers have been hired while 33 have left.

The department began accepting online applications last year, which has increased the number of people seeking jobs. Recent data show the majority — 378 — are from outside Maryland, while 162 are from the city, 171 are from Baltimore County and 163 are from other Maryland counties.

The department also released recent data on misconduct investigations.

There has been a 29 percent decrease in the number of complaints — 336 so far in 2019 — down from 470 at the same time last year. There are 14 officers who have pending trial boards at which they could face termination, and 13 who face pending criminal charges. No officers have been terminated this year.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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