By Jessica Anderson and Justin Fenton The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE — Amid calls from the public and elected officials for increased oversight in police misconduct cases, a proposed contract agreement between the city and the Baltimore police union would require placing two civilian volunteers on oversight review boards, along with three sworn officers.
The change is included in a three-year tentative agreement between the city and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, according to a notice issued to union members Saturday and provided to The Baltimore Sun by union members.
Other changes include 3 percent annual raises for officers and a return to a shift schedule of five-day work weeks, composed of 8.5-hour shifts.
The notice says the union’s bargaining team unanimously supports the proposed deal. Rank and file members are scheduled to vote on the proposal Nov. 13.
Newly elected union president Sgt. Michael Mancuso declined to comment on the proposal Saturday, and a spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If the contract is approved, the change would be considered a success for Pugh and advocates who have sought for more civilian oversight of police.
Trial boards review the cases that are investigated by the department’s internal affairs unit. Such investigations are separate from any criminal investigation. The board can make recommendations on discipline, including whether an officer should be fired, but ultimately the police commissioner has final say.
Some have criticized that the current review process — conducted solely by peers — allows officers to protect their own.
Many officials and activists have lobbied to have civilians serve on the trial boards, and Pugh has agreed, previously calling the issue “non-negotiable” in contract negotiations.
Calls for more civilian oversight were heightened after the trials of officers charged and acquitted in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray in 2015, and the federal corruption investigation of the department’s Gun Trace Task Force.
The General Assembly previously passed measures allowing local jurisdictions to put civilians on trial boards, but until now the union has opposed such reforms in Baltimore.
It’s unclear whether the union will approve of such a change. Some officers have said residents are not qualified to understand the complex decisions police are required to make.
At the same time as adding civilians to the process, the proposal calls for reducing the role of senior commanders. For officers and sergeants, the proposal calls for a board consisting of someone of the same rank, as well as a lieutenant and a commander ranked captain or above. The current makeup is an equally ranked person and two commanders.
One officer, who requested anonymity because the department prohibits officers from commenting on such matters to the media, predicted Saturday that reaction to the contract proposal would be overwhelmingly against.
“Everyone is heated,” the officer said. “I’m sure on Nov. 13 this will get voted down.”Baltimore police officers have been working under a short-term contract since April that provides a 3 percent pay raise and a $500 bonus.
The new proposal would include a $1,000 ratification bonus and a 3 percent raise each fiscal year until fiscal year 2021. It also includes $1,000 “patrol Incentive” bonus for two years for any officer who works patrol the entire fiscal year.
A recent staffing study found that patrol positions have been understaffed with a vacancy rate of 26 percent.
The proposed contract would also create a 28-day patrol schedule of three shifts of eight hours and 33 minutes each. Officers would work five days, have off two, work five days and then have three off, according to the materials provided to members.
The current shift structure adopted in January 2015, after the city and union’s last round of contract negotiations, cut 200 positions and gave 13 percent salary increases to officers, with the expectation that it would help the department rein in overtime costs.
However, the city has spent millions on overtime to cover shortages in patrol. The department spent $47.2 million on overtime in the fiscal year that ended June 30, even though only $16 million was budgeted.
The proposal could help reduce overtime spending but it’s not clear whether those savings would be greater than the cost of the raises officers are being offered. The short term deal in April was estimated to cost $3.5 million.
At a City Council hearing in September, Deputy Commissioner Andre Bonaparte said the current shift schedule was making it hard to retain younger officers, saying that a change would be good for the department and officers alike.
But in October 2017 union members overwhelmingly rejected a deal that called for similar changes to the shift schedule. That proposal included more modest raises but didn’t call for civilians on disciplinary boards.