Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Friday he will reassign 100 officers to patrol duty after the police union charged that the city has far too few officers on the street to ensure safety.
Davis said he took issue with the union's claim this week that Baltimore is "at great risk" because of a police shortage, but acknowledged he does not have enough officers to fill patrol shifts.
"The responsibility to our community begins and ends with our patrol officers," Davis said at a City Hall news conference with Mayor Catherine Pugh at his side. "Patrol is the backbone of any effective police department."
Pugh said there are not enough officers patrolling the city, but that more arrests are not necessarily the answer to Baltimore's high rate of violence.
"I've seen over the decades that just arresting people doesn't solve the problem," Pugh said. "This is not about increasing arrests."
Davis said the redeployments will happen later this month. They cannot take effect immediately because officers have to be given notice of schedule changes, he said.
The announcement came after the department released a report showing that the number of officers patrolling the city has declined as violent crime has surged. The annual community policing report said 999 officers were assigned to patrol neighborhoods as of last month, down from 1,102 the year before.
In response, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 said the current figure actually was closer to 700 officers. Lt. Gene Ryan, the FOP president, said the department had reached "a tipping point of being unable to protect the city and its citizens."
Ryan did not respond to a request for comment Friday. On Twitter, the union wrote, "Glad to see [Davis] step up to plate to admit long time staffing issues at @BaltimorePolice but only after FOP made public." A second tweet said the union would provide a full response to Davis' and Pugh's comments Monday.
Former City Councilman Carl Stokes, who has advocated for more cops walking the beat, said he wondered why it took publication of low patrol numbers to cause the transfer of officers.
"Every other month, they say they're going to do community policing and yet they don't actually put it in practice. Here we go again," he said. "They will be gone before the winter is over. There is not a commitment in this city to cops on the street."
Davis said Friday that Ryan's language about understaffing was "offensive" but agreed that the department can't fill shifts.
In fact, Davis said the department has never had enough officers to fill all of the patrol shifts under the current schedule, which was agreed to by the department and the union during contract negotiations in 2014.
The schedule — which moved officers from working five eight-hour shifts per week to four 10-hour shifts — has never been sustainable, Davis said, though he wouldn't say exactly how many officers would be needed.
"I guess there was some hope that we would somehow catch up with it, but we never had that number to begin with," he said. "And then, frankly … the unrest hit and attrition skyrocketed."
Davis was referring to a sharp spike in the number of officers retiring or leaving the department after the unrest of April 2015, which followed the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray of injuries he suffered in police custody.
"We're still recovering," Davis said.
The department and the union are back in negotiations now, and Davis said he wants to return to the eight-hour shift schedule. He and Pugh said control over officers' schedules should rest solely in the hands of the commissioner, not be mandated in the union contract.
In addition to the schedule change, Davis said he also wants to move more officers from administrative tasks to enforcement and increase the size of recruit classes. Davis did not specify where the 100 officers moving to patrol are currently working in the department.
The contract negotiations are stalled. The last negotiating session was held Oct. 25, police said. Beyond the patrol schedule, Pugh said another sticking point is the presence of civilians on trial boards responsible for assessing officer wrongdoing, something she said she wants but the union has rejected.
Some community leaders have been critical of the lack of officers on the street. Johnette Richardson, director of Belair-Edison Neighborhoods Inc., said residents have noticed a decrease in officers walking around the neighborhood and voiced their concerns to the Northeast District commanders.
"Having an officer walk up and down the street sends a signal that it is safe to walk around and safe to do business," Richardson said. "For us, that is the proactive policing that we think makes a difference."
The discussion about how many officers should patrol Baltimore — which is not among the 20 largest cities in the country but has the eighth-largest police force — is not new. Discussions have also swirled here and elsewhere around arrest numbers and their relation to crime levels.
In 2011, when the city had its lowest homicide rate in years with 197 killings, Baltimore had 2,931 sworn officers who made 60,009 arrests.
Last year, when 318 people were killed in Baltimore, the city had 2,538 officers who made 25,172 arrests.
The city's arrest numbers have been dropping for years in accordance with a strategy shift — and a national trend — away from so-called zero-tolerance policing that left thousands of Baltimore residents with records for minor charges that were often dropped. Then, for a time, arrests and crime dropped together.
Still, former Baltimore police commissioner Ed Norris called the most recent arrest numbers "startling" for a city seeing such a crime spike.
He said if proactive policing is down, it's only logical that crime will increase. He lamented that murder rates have returned to 1990s levels.
"This is not surprising," he said. "It saddens me. It's not easy to turn that boat around. It was like turning around a battleship. There's a lot of hard work that's being undone by this."
State Sen. Nathaniel McFadden noted that the FOP raised its concerns right before state lawmakers return to Annapolis for the General Assembly's annual 90-day session, which begins Wednesday. He suggested the FOP may be angling for more money.
"Before the session, we get these concerns," said McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat who sits on the Budget and Taxation Committee. "To be very honest with you, the state is in a deficit. The city is obviously in a deficit. I think that the FOP needs to sit down with the commissioner, with the mayor, with members of the City Council and the legislature, and really come up with a comprehensive solution."
Beyond staffing, Davis and Pugh also addressed the city's negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice over a pending consent decree that will mandate reforms within the Police Department.
Both sides have said they want to reach an agreement before Democratic President Barack Obama leaves office. Republican President-elect Donald Trump will be inaugurated Jan. 20.
Davis said there is "real energy" behind the negotiations. Pugh said talks are occurring at all hours of the day and night, and could be concluded as early as next week.
Baltimore Sun reporters Yvonne Wenger and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.