Baltimore police say they're prioritizing beat cops, officers who live in city -- but numbers have dropped

Baltimore Police say they're prioritizing beat cops, officers living in city, but new report says numbers drop

For the second year in a row, officials with the Baltimore Police Department stressed the importance of foot patrols and assigning officers to regular neighborhood beats in their end-of-year "community policing" report.

"A fundamental rule for effective community policing is having a visible and tangible presence in the community," the report says. "Having uniformed officers on the street in the same neighborhoods makes the community feel safe while reinforcing mutual trust between police and ordinary citizens."

However, numbers outlined in the report show that, as of Dec. 1, the department had more than 100 fewer officers working neighborhood patrols than during the previous year, representing a smaller percentage of the overall patrol force.

As of Dec. 1, 999 officers out of 1,255 — or 79.6 percent — assigned to the department's patrol division were assigned to "sector patrol," the department reported.

The year prior, as of Nov. 1, 2015, 1,102 officers out of 1,271 — or 87 percent — were assigned to sector patrol, the department said in last year's report.

The state legislature required in 2015 that a report be compiled annually.

The department also has fewer officers this year who live in the city, despite saying in recent months that recruitment of city residents was a priority and holding meet-and-greet events to attract local recruits or lure current officers to move into the city.

Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said last month that she wanted more officers to be city residents, and state lawmakers saw it as a big enough issue to require such numbers in the community policing reports.

As of Dec. 1, 494 officers — or 19.5 percent of the force — lived in Baltimore. Last year, 567 officers — 21.4 percent of the force — lived in the city.

T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, said the department has had to redeploy some officers to deal with violent crime — he said it recently quadrupled the number of robbery detectives — and has limitations on how it can fill shifts based on its collective bargaining agreement with the police union.

"We certainly recognize the staffing challenges that exist and are working as hard and as fast as we can to alleviate some of those problems," he said.

He also said the number of officers who live in the city is "something that ebbs and flows," but that recent academy classes have had high numbers of city residents.

Police union officials did not immediately respond to questions about the numbers Monday. Del. Jill Carter, the sponsor of the legislation requiring the community policing reports, could not be reached for comment.

The report comes out as city officials continue to negotiate over police reforms with the U.S. Department of Justice, following a scathing report by the Justice Department last summer that found discriminatory policing by the Police Department and stressed the need to repair relationships between police and community members.

Officials from the city and the Justice Department have said they are working toward reaching an agreement and signing a consent decree mandating the reforms before President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated later this month.

The declines in beat patrol officers and officers who live in the city are likely related to the drop in the overall number of officers. The report says the department had 2,528 sworn officers as of Dec. 1, compared with 2,646 a year before.

The decline is driven by various factors, including a spike in retirements after the unrest in 2015, a newly negotiated contract that cut positions and rearranged shifts with an eye toward saving money on overtime, and many open positions. The police union has complained about understaffing, while department officials have said they are sending out enough officers to maintain public safety and are doing their best to recruit.

During the recent 12-month period outlined in the new report, the department held 29 recruiting events, far more than the 12 events the department held during the previous 12-month reporting period.

State lawmakers required the department to report the community policing data during the 2015 legislative session, after rioting and unrest broke out in Baltimore following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody.

In addition to the patrol numbers, police also reported on demographics within the force, all as of Dec. 1.

There were 1,011 black officers — or 39.9 percent of the department — compared with 1,050 black officers — 39.6 percent of the force — in November 2015. There were 402 female officers, compared with 403 last year.

The department reported that complaints of excessive force by officers had declined. They reported 95 complaints during the 12-month period covered in the new report, compared with 128 complaints the year prior. They also reported fewer officers had been suspended.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
32°