By Ian Duncan The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE — When Baltimore police officers patrolled the streets last month, there were days when as many as 40 percent were working overtime, according to new records that detail how the department is struggling to deploy the number of officers it says it needs to keep the public safe.
Patrol officers are the backbone of the department. They respond to emergencies and other calls for help. City council members and union officials say the department needs 1,200 patrol officers to function effectively. But during the last week of May, just 792 officers were assigned to patrol.
The shortfall imposes costs on the city in two ways. As the department racks up millions of dollars in overtime costs each month, taxpayers must foot the bill. And the police union says that officers forced to regularly work 16 hours a day wear down and become less effective.
Lt. Gene Ryan, the president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said staffing levels are dangerously low, imposing risks on officers and citizens alike.
“I don’t think the majority of the public understand how short we are and how dangerous it is,” Ryan said. “When you see the paperwork and the numbers, it’s mind-boggling.”
The police department provided the patrol deployment and overtime figures this week to City Councilman Ryan Dorsey as the council scrutinizes the city’s annual budget.
On May 22, a Tuesday, patrol commanders had just 226 officers scheduled to fill the work of 390. To make up the difference, they deployed 164 more officers — or 42 percent of the patrol that day — on overtime.
On Thursdays and Fridays in May, when the department tended to deploy more officers, the gap between those scheduled to work and those on overtime was smaller — between 12 and 20 percent.
The department regularly turns to overtime to fully staff patrol shifts, sometimes compelling officers to work overtime through a process known as “drafting.” The department relied on forced overtime every day in May. On three days, commanders drafted 60 or more officers for overtime work.
The police department has spent at least $36 million on overtime this fiscal year, more than twice the budgeted $16 million. The city’s spending panel voted this week to approve the use of $21 million in excess tax revenue to cover the difference.
Dorsey said the overtime figures raise questions about how police resources are being used and whether enough officers are assigned to patrol.
The police department’s budget lists 1,461 regular officers in “police patrol” for 2018. Hundreds more are assigned to other parts of the department’s budget.
“The takeaway for me is, where is everybody?” Dorsey said. “Altogether you’ve got 2,300 officers and they say they can’t make up a shift schedule that requires half of that?”
The police department did not respond to questions about overtime and patrol assignments.
The department’s use of overtime has come under new scrutiny since federal prosecutors charged members of the elite Gun Trace Task Force last year with several crimes, including overtime fraud. The eight officers have been convicted.
The city solicitor’s office is auditing the police department’s overtime records as part of a lawsuit. The police union alleges the city miscalculated the way overtime was paid out. It’s not clear whether the findings of that investigation will be made public.
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and police commanders have said that the main cause of the overtime spending isn’t fraud, but a lack of available officers and a shift schedule that’s locked into the police union’s contract. The shift schedule requires officers to work four 10-hour shifts per week.
Pugh reiterated that point on Wednesday.
“There is a shortage of police officers in Baltimore city,” the mayor said. “When we have conversations with people in the communities, what they’re saying to us [is] what they want to see are more police officers.”
Patrol officers assigned to the city’s nine geographic districts work one of three 10-hour shifts. Each officer gets three days off each week. So of the 792 officers assigned to patrol in May, an average of 452 were available each day.
Typically, about 120 officers were deployed to the 7 a.m.-to-5 p.m. and 4 p.m.-to-2 a.m. shifts in May. About 100 were deployed to the 10 p.m.-to-8 a.m. shift.
Pugh said the shift schedule was designed for a department at full strength, not one she said was down 700 officers from its maximum authorized strength of 2,800.
“It creates a tremendous problem for us,” she said.
The city has been trying to renegotiate that shift schedule with the police union, but hasn’t struck a deal. Union officials have said officers like the current schedule and aren’t budging on it.
Patrol rosters for the last week of May show how the schedule works in practice.
Of the 26 officers assigned to work the 4 p.m.-to-2 a.m. shift in the Western District on May 28, for example, 16 were on their regularly scheduled days off, two were listed as taking time off for having worked on holidays, one was on vacation, one was on military leave and one was on a special detail. That left five officers, when the schedule called for 11 to be deployed.
In the end, the numbers were made up by three officers working as scheduled, four working overtime voluntarily and another four who were drafted into overtime work.
City Councilman Brandon Scott, the chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said the way patrol officers are scheduled needs to be overhauled.
He said more officers need to be assigned to patrol, the boundaries of the nine districts need to be reorganized to reflect current population and crime data, and the public should be able to file reports about minor crimes electronically. He expects a staffing study the department will soon finish will reach the same conclusions.
“We know the overtime is not sustainable,” Scott said.
©2018 The Baltimore Sun