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Baltimore police union says there's 'no existing crime plan,' patrol only responding to worst 911 calls

The union that represents the Baltimore Police Department’s rank-and-file officers said the agency has “no existing crime plan” and patrol shifts are so understaffed and officers so overwhelmed by the volume of 911 calls that they are instructed on a nightly basis to respond only to the most violent and pressing ones.

“As a result, citizens who call 911 in Baltimore may not see a police officer for hours, if at all, when they call with a non-priority incident anytime between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. each night,” wrote Sgt. Mike Mancuso, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, in a statement sent Friday to The Baltimore Sun and intended as a rebuttal to comments made by Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle on Thursday.

Tuggle had acknowledged that the Police Department is “understaffed across the board,” but also argued — echoing comments by Mayor Catherine Pugh — that a new shift structure put in place on Sunday as a result of negotiations with the union had increased the number of officers on the streets by 25 percent this week.

Asked to back up that claim with data, the department provided patrol figures that showed a more modest 12 percent increase in officers.

In his letter Friday, Mancuso said that the department’s stated deployment figures really result in an even smaller increase of less than 5 percent. He argued that the planned number of patrol officers on shifts moving forward remains insufficient to provide the city with the officers it needs to deal with the call volumes that come in.

He referred to those “constants” — or the numbers of officers the department says are needed to fill every patrol car and police wagon — as “basically a ‘shell game’ intended to make the deployment numbers appear to be far more acceptable than they are, in reality.”

He said officers are “placed in G3 status every night.”

That status stands for “Grouping 3” and is a designation for when three homicides or shootings occur within a short time. When such a designation is called out, all districts go into a “tactical alert” mode for the next 20 minutes, during which lower-priority calls — for nonviolent and minor crimes — are monitored by dispatch and supervisors, but not necessarily responded to by officers.

The union said that the designation is now being used nightly, whether or not there has been a cluster of shootings. The department did not respond Friday to questions about that deployment tactic.

Mancuso also questioned Tuggle’s statement at a Thursday news conference that he believed officers in Baltimore deserve raises.

“If this were the case why did the city, during the most recent contract negotiations, only offer police officers a 3% raise per year?” Mancuso wrote.

“Even more disconcerting” to officers than their pay — “and the reason so many are currently leaving” the department — are the “substandard conditions in which they work,” Mancuso wrote.

“Patrol cars do not function. Our facilities, citywide, are dangerously filthy to a point that would not be acceptable in the Baltimore City Jail,” he wrote. “Current technology is a complete failure. There is no existing crime plan. There are conflicting messages about how to combat crime. There are failed policies. And, just as importantly, there is an inability to treat officers with the professionalism and respect they deserve.”

Mancuso’s comments are the latest to cast doubt on the Police Department’s ability to handle crime in the city, where more than 300 people have been killed in each of the past four years. The union’s concern that the patrol problem has not been addressed in any meaningful way stands in contrast to comments from Pugh, Tuggle and other top brass in the department who say the new shift structure is going to radically improve patrol.

They also come a few days before Michael Harrison, Pugh’s nominee to replace Tuggle, starts as acting commissioner as the city council considers his appointment.

Everyone acknowledges that patrol has struggled lately.

Before last weekend, on any given day, half of the more than 600 active Baltimore police officers assigned to patrol were officially off duty.

Many worked overtime on their days off — and some were forced to do so — but the shift structure overall was completely unsustainable, said Col. Richard Worley, chief of patrol.

The schedule was making it impossible for him to schedule enough officers each day in each of the city’s nine districts to meet their individual patrol needs, he acknowledged, and every day, police leaders faced the costly and potentially dangerous proposition of sending shifts out short.

“That means probably two or three neighborhoods do not have a car patrolling their neighborhoods that day,” Worley said.

However, since Sunday, things have changed, Worley said.

Despite top-level concern about attrition outpacing hiring, the outlook in patrol is improving thanks to the city’s contract with the police union that — as of Sunday — did away with the old shift structure, which had been adopted in early 2015 to increase officers on the streets before backfiring as waves of officers left in the wake of the riots that April.

Under the old schedule, officers worked four 10-hour shifts a week. Under the new schedule, they work 8½-hour shifts five days per week, with alternating stretches of two and three days off. The change means that a full two-thirds of active officers assigned to patrol are scheduled to work each day, as opposed to just half, Worley said.

“As opposed to putting eight to 10 officers out each night, we’re putting out between 13 to 15 in most districts,” he said.

Worley acknowledged that major shortages remain in staffing. No district has every authorized patrol position filled, he said, and some have huge gaps — which is forcing the department to continue paying overtime to reach their “constants.”

On most days in the Northeast District, for instance, “they still have to offer overtime to get up to the numbers, because they’re over 50 officers down,” Worley said. “The Northern is in the same boat. The Northern is about 41 officers down. So they still have to pay overtime.”

Drafting — or forcing officers to work overtime if there aren’t enough volunteers — also continued during the first week under the new schedule. Worley said that reflected a need to give some officers a day off because the shift change otherwise resulted in their working too many days in a row.

Moving forward, Worley said, he expects overtime to diminish. And he expects drafting — which had affected 50 to 100 officers each day under the old schedule — to all but disappear.

In addition to better-rested officers working more regular shifts in neighborhoods they get to know, the new shift structure has allowed the city to staff every shift with the appropriate number of sergeants and lieutenants to supervise the officers on duty, Worley said.

“It’s much more supervision on the street now,” he said.

Mancuso, in his letter, dismissed the department’s efforts to address patrol shortages, arguing that the department “has set staffing goals but has made no substantial moves” to achieve them.

“Our Police Officers deserve better and the public deserves a realistic anticipation of what they can expect from police services,” Mancuso wrote. “To do anything less contributes to the public mistrust of the Baltimore Police Department and the dissatisfaction of our members.”

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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