Baltimore’s police union on Tuesday blamed the department’s millions in overruns for overtime spending on the “mismanagement" of police brass and “ineptitude” of city politicians.
“Years of mismanagement on the part of the Department’s upper command, combined with the ineptitude of previous city administrations, has left our agency depleted of adequate manpower,” said Lt. Kenneth Butler, vice president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. “We are currently in a crisis situation which will only be resolved when those in charge stop blaming our members and admit that the fault is theirs. … At the current time we are bleeding experienced officers at a furious pace and no one has offered any suggestions for a solution for even that problem.”
The union’s comments came the morning after the Baltimore City Council’s budget committee unanimously rejected a request to transfer $21 million to cover police overtime spending that ran over budget last year — a move seen as a statement by city lawmakers on the overtime issue.
“This is a clear message that the status quo is not going to work anymore,” said City Councilman Brandon Scott, chairman of the council’s public safety committee, at the meeting.
The vote was largely symbolic because the Baltimore Police Department already has spent the money, according to the budget office. But the vote to reject the transfer — a request that is usually considered automatic — means the city won’t be able to reconcile its financial books for some areas for the fiscal year ended June 30.
The Police Department spent $47.2 million on overtime in the fiscal year that ended June 30, even though only $16 million was budgeted.
The budget for the new fiscal year allocates $20 million for police overtime. Henry Raymond, the city’s finance director, has said he expects the police department to live within its means.
Monday’s committee vote came as leaders on the City Council have announced monthly accountability meetings about the police department, focusing on both the agency’s budget and its crime-fighting strategies.
The city law department also is auditing the police department’s overtime spending but has yet to make the results of the audit public.
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh announced the audit in 2017 after officers in the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force unit were indicted on federal racketeering charges — including allegations that they committed overtime fraud.
The federal indictment included allegations that the officers claimed to be working overtime when they were not even in Baltimore. The officers claimed overtime when they were near their homes in the surrounding counties or even farther away.
Baltimore’s city solicitor, Andre M. Davis, has said the audit is continuing and cannot be released until it is introduced as evidence as part of the city’s response to a federal lawsuit filed by the police union over alleged underpayment of overtime.
Baltimore budget director Bob Cenname said Monday the Police Department’s patrol schedule, a subject of current negotiations with the police union, is unworkable and contributes to the high amount of overtime. Even so, Cenname said, the agency is making some progress on oversight of overtime.
In the union statement, Butler said the problem is not the schedule, but a lack of officers.
“A manpower deficit, the likes of our current one, cannot be solved with just a change in schedule, as is suggested,” Butler wrote.
He said the council rejection was “completely understandable as a means of protest.” But he took issue with what he called the council’s “blaring innuendos” that “the union and its membership are somehow responsible for the exorbitant overtime costs that are occurring and growing each year.”
“The Baltimore Police Department does not have the manpower to staff any shift proposal without the use of exorbitant overtime spending,” Butler wrote.
City council members and union officials say the department needs 1,200 patrol officers to function effectively. But fewer than 800 officers currently are available for patrol.
There are about 2,500 sworn officers on the force, down from about 3,000 in 2013. Baltimore has suffered from more than 300 homicides each of the past three years.
Pugh said Tuesday she has taken a number of steps to increase the number of officers after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake shrank the force. Pugh included 100 new officer jobs in her latest budget.
Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said earlier this month that he is bolstering the department’s patrol ranks by almost 20 percent in an effort to get more officers onto the streets, suppress crime and curb soaring overtime spending.
As the department struggles to hire more recruits, Tuggle reassigned 115 officers from other units to patrol assignments in the department’s nine districts.
Pugh took issue with the criticism from the City Council, which she said didn’t speak out strongly enough when the previous administration entered into a new patrol schedule or cut the number of officers.
“The people who are sitting there talking about police overtime were there, not me,” Pugh said. “The shortage of police officers is real. This didn't happen under my watch. I unfroze police positions.”
Pugh added that she is expanding the anti-violence Safe Streets program and increasing recruiting numbers among police cadets.
“We have to make this a safer city,” she said.