Baltimore Police failed to prioritize patrol positions, leaving a 26.6% vacancy rate, report says

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 consider restructuring, a new report found.

Of the 1,102 police officer positions budgeted across the department’s nine districts, only 809 are filled, according to the 189-page staffing study filed to the court Tuesday. The report is part of the years-long sweeping reforms required by the consent decree reached between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice last year.

The findings are based on data provided by BPD and verified by the Police Foundation, a nationally recognized nonprofiit. Ultimately, the findings will help create a staffing plan required by the consent decree monitoring plan, and is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

“The plan will be necessary to carry out the work of department and of the reform efforts,” the report said.

The report found that “BPD has sufficient budgeted police officer positions to needs of community calls for service and allows for sufficient available time to conduct self-initiated activity and work with the community to problem solve neighborhood issues,” the report said. However, it found that “the number of filled and assigned positions does not meet the needs of the department and the community.”

Because there’s not an emphasis on filling patrol positions with permanent officers, the department covers patrol needs with pricey overtime, the report said.

The report found only a 2 percent vacancy rate in other areas in the department.

The authors suggest that the department re-evaluate needs and potentially restructure, including “flattening” to reduce bureaucracy.

The report says Baltimore has at least five levels of rank between patrol officers up to the commissioner, which is higher than in nine other cities the report’s authors evaluated for the staffing study.

The report also suggested the department should consider reducing the number of specialized units, allowing “more resources devoted to the direct delivery of police services and community-oriented policing to the general public.”

The report also recommends the department discontinue the practice of pulling officers for nonpatrol duties and increase the number of civilians for certain jobs that don’t require a sworn officer, such as some administrative functions, allowing officers to get back onto the street. Only 13.6 percent of the department’s staff are civilians, which the report said is lower than in many agencies across the country.

While many might point to more officers as a means to cut the city’s high violent crime, the report said various staffing studies completed elsewhere were inconsistent, with some showing that “increasing police staffing is not a cost-effective way to cut crime.”

The report also notes the constant turnover in department leadership in recent years has negatively affected staffing.

“With each change in leadership, corresponding changes in organizational structure also occur. This has happened so frequently at BPD, that the resulting instability is felt at every level of the department, hampering consistent focus and decision making on critical department issues,” the report said.

The police department, the Pugh administration and the U.S. Justice Department entered into the consent decree in April 2017 after a federal investigation found widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory police practices.

Since then, the police department has had three leaders. The agreement was reached under Commissioner Kevin Davis, whom Mayor Catherine Pugh fired in January. Pugh then appointed Darryl De Sousa, who resigned in May after he was charged with failing to file federal tax returns. Gary Tuggle was named interim commissioner after De Sousa resigned.

The city is reviewing applications for a new commissioner and City Solicitor Andre Davis has said a new commissioner is expected to be named by the end of next month.

The monitoring team helping the department implement reforms expressed several concerns in a court filing Tuesday. The monitors said some of the staffing analysis was based on estimates that would make sure patrol officers have enough time to respond to calls for service but also allow them to spend about 40 percent of their time for community engagement and proactive policing. But the monitors said those estimates can vary significantly based on the types of calls and might need further review.

The monitors also asked for more comparative data from other cities when looking at specialized units, including the Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates officer misconduct.

The monitors said the department would also benefit from more data from OPR investigations.

“An analysis of how long internal investigations are currently taking given OPR investigator caseloads, and how long they should take and what average caseloads ought to be, would provide some insight,” the monitors wrote.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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