Rank-and-file members of the Baltimore Police Department have voted to accept a new labor agreement with the city that would increase civilian oversight of the department and do away with a shift schedule that leaders blamed for patrol shortages and high overtime costs.
The tentative three-year contract between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 requires two civilian volunteers to serve on internal department disciplinary boards, along with three sworn officers. It also replaces a schedule under which officers worked four 10-hour shifts a week with one in which they work five 8.5-hour shifts per week.
The new proposal also gives officers a $1,000 ratification bonus and annual raises of 3 percent each year through 2021. It also includes a $1,000 “patrol incentive” for any officer who works patrol an entire fiscal year.
Putting civilians on trial boards was supported by community organizations and public and elected officials who have called for increased oversight in cases of alleged police misconduct. But the idea had been unpopular with some members of the department, who said civilians couldn’t understand the complex, split-second decisions police are often required to make.
Union officials previously said that members also opposed giving up their four-day work weeks.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Sgt. Michael Mancuso, the union’s newly elected president, said members made a “hard choice” following a “very difficult negotiation process” to accept a contract that is “less than ideal.”
“While our members agreed that this proposal was less than ideal, the alternative to acceptance was dismal, at best,” he wrote. “Instead, they made the hard choice in order to preserve our contractual rights, going forward.”
The new agreement — which city officials would not release Wednesday because it had not been finalized — is considered a victory for Mayor Catherine Pugh and other reform advocates. In a statement, Pugh called it “a 'win-win' for the dedicated officers of the Baltimore Police Department and the citizens of Baltimore.”
City Solicitor Andre Davis, a key player in the negotiations, said late Tuesday that the union vote was a victory for both sides.
He called the deal “Big for Baltimore City and Big for FOP.”
“There can be two winners sometimes when disputants work together in good faith,” he said.
Davis said Wednesday that the process of recruiting civilians to serve on trial boards could begin right away. They will be required to get a week of training at a state police school and go on four ride-alongs with city officers.
“And not just ride-alongs between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.,” Davis said. “They will be out there on the street close up with the officers seeing what the officers have to go through day to day.”
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He said the civilian board members will be given a stipend to attend the training and $100 a day when they’re chosen to hear a case.
Davis said the city’s research indicates that civilian members of police disciplinary boards are no more likely than fellow officers to sustain allegations of wrongdoing and in some cases are more likely to clear accused officers.
“I frankly think ultimately the FOP negotiating team members and ultimately those who voted to ratify opened their minds to the reality that there are cities around the country that have civilians on these kinds of trial boards and the results have not skewed demonstrably,” he said.
The Baltimore Police Department has failed to prioritize patrol positions, leaving a 26.6 percent vacancy rate — significantly higher compared with other areas within the department — and should reconsider restructuring, a new report found.
A recent staffing study conducted by the Police Foundation, a nationally recognized nonprofit, found the Baltimore Police Department understaffed patrol positions, resulting in a vacancy rate of 26 percent.
The change to the shift schedule could help reduce overtime spending, which amounts to tens of millions of dollars every year, but it’s not clear whether those savings would be greater than the cost of the raises officers are being offered.