Baltimore police fall below 700 sworn officers – faces closing police districts as morale fades


BALTIMORE, MD – Baltimore Police Department’s manpower woes have not subsided since the Baltimore Police Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) said the department was 500 officers short in December.

They now say the department’s manpower has dropped below 700 sworn officers.

A Baltimore Police Department staffing study released in August 2018 said:

“The BPD staffing charts for each of the nine districts from December 2017 show that a total of 1,102 police officer positions are budgeted for sector patrol. However, only 809 of those positions are filled.

“The analysis also shows that while budgeted positions are adequate, the number of filled and assigned positions does not meet the needs of the department and community. To compensate for the lack of police officers assigned to sector patrol, the BPD uses overtime and drafting to fill vacancies.”

Since that report, staffing levels have dropped even more. In December 2020, the FOP reported that staffing levels had dropped 500 officers short. The FOP blamed the drop in manpower on Police Commissioner Michael Harrison’s leadership:

“500 Officers short! Homicides and shootings are pacing with last year’s record violent crime stats and we have lost more officers than we have hired over the last 2 years of PC Harrison’s tenure in Baltimore.

“No actionable crime plan at the street level! In the last 13 days, there have been 19 homicides and 30 failed murders (shootings) in Baltimore. If your starting pitcher is getting crushed, you bench him!”

Harrison was sworn in as the Baltimore Police Department’s 41st Commissioner on March 12, 2019. Since then, he has supported various police reform plans and served on a joint reform commission. He has backed new reforms just passed in Maryland.

Last week, Maryland legislators passed sweeping police reform measures after overriding a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan. The Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 brought major changes to law enforcement from big, urban departments to small, rural forces.

The new reform laws require police departments to determine how to pay for and implement them. For example, the Maryland State Police must equip all 1500 of their officers with body cameras at a cost of more than $5 million dollars.

The new reform laws gave defense attorneys an increase in the state cap on damages from police misconduct from $400,000 to $890,000.

In a move that angered many officers and their chiefs, the reform laws created a civilian panel to investigate police misconduct and allow civilians to bring administrative charges against officers.

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler commented on the requirement:

“It is more likely that we would find a unicorn, than a civilian, who has police expertise and no relationship to law enforcement.”

Karen J. Kruger, the chief counsel for the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, questioned if the new disciplinary rules could even be implemented:

“(The rules are) heavily administrative and more cumbersome than the old process, and time will tell if we will even be able to implement it.

“That’s going to be a huge challenge to find people committed for the long haul. If these roles can’t be filled, then we can’t have any police discipline. Then we are totally handicapped.”

Another new rule creates an independent unit within the Maryland Attorney General’s Office to investigate deaths caused by officers.

The threshold for use of force has also changed. A new legal definition permits officers to use force only when found “necessary and proportional to prevent an imminent threat of physical injury” or achieve “a legitimate law enforcement objective.”

An officer who intentionally uses excessive force that results in death or serious physical injury could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and sentenced to prison for up to 10 years.

Clyde Boatwright, president of the statewide Fraternal Order of Police, said the new reforms may drive away new police recruits and cause active officers to resign.

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As 2021 began, officers took another hit to morale when the city began using a new payroll software called Workday, which resulted in officers and other city workers going without pay.

A coalition of Baltimore city public employee unions sent a letter to city officials claiming a breach of union contracts as a result of the problems. They listed significant grievances with the implementation of Workday, including widespread pay inaccuracies, issues with direct deposit, and retirees being unable to receive healthcare benefits.

The issues, which have since been resolved, resulted in the Baltimore City FOP issuing a statement to officers who may be looking to leave the department:

“FOP3 leadership is aware that many of you are looking for other jobs due to the low pay, inadequate and unsafe working conditions, and the hostile work environment in Baltimore. Many of you have stated that the last straw is the newly implemented and poorly tested Workday system.

“Some of you have not been paid on time or not paid at all. We have heard this from Officers in all stages of their careers, including our trainees (at) the Academy. If you are currently looking to leave the BPD, please contact us at [email protected].”

In a tweet published Monday, the Baltimore City FOP said that Baltimore police manpower has now dropped below 700 sworn officers:

“Word is Police Commissioner Harrison will need to close 2 police districts. As of today, Patrol has fallen below 700 sworn officers!”

The morale of officers in the city took another hit last month when State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced the continuation of a policy designed to reduce jail populations because of the pandemic.

Under the policy, officers who encounter someone they would normally arrest for low-level offenses will temporarily detain this person for the length of time needed to confirm their identity. The offender may be taken to an investigative unit. Officers must complete paperwork on the encounter before releasing the offender.

Deputy Commissioner Michael Sullivan issued a statement April 9 stating the department will continue to follow the policy set by Mosby:

“On March 26, the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City issued a press release announcing the indefinite continuation of certain prosecutorial policies established during the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of the statement, the Baltimore Police Department will continue discretionary modifications to our response to certain offenses.”

 The Baltimore City FOP said the policy prevents officers from protecting citizens:

“With new police reform, who is going to help our older citizens trapped in drug-ridden neighborhoods? Addicts, disorderly, and trespassers now have free rein on their porches and yards thanks to the new policies and laws of Marilyn Mosby, Harrison, & General Assembly.”

The city, which saw anti-police protests throughout the summer following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, has pressed down on officer morale as well. Renewed protests and violence rocked the city this weekend over the death of Daunte Wright, who was accidentally shot in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota last week.

On Friday, about 150 protesters gathered outside police headquarters chanting, “Say no-no to the po-po,” “These pigs have got to go,” and “These racist cops have got to go!”

More people arrived riding bicycles, leading the crowd through the streets and blocking off intersections to cars as the people passed by. They marched on to Harbor East and shouted, “Fire fire gentrifier … Black people used to live here!”

The loss of officers in Baltimore, and across the nation since the “defund the police” movement and lack of police support from Democratic leaders is occurring just as violent crime surges in America’s major cities.

Last year, the United States tallied more than 20,000 murders, the highest total since 1995 and 4,000 more than in 2019. FBI data for 2020 points to a 25% surge in murders, the largest single-year increase since the agency began publishing uniform data in 1960.

In an article in USA Today, opinion commentator Jason Johnson gave his summary of what was happening in Baltimore and across the country:

“In the wake of the May and June unrest, public officials’ decisions and growing hostility toward policing left law enforcement demoralized, debilitated and, in some cases, defunded. Even the most dedicated officers who now face a greater risk of being sued, fired, or prosecuted for doing their job feel pressure to pull back.

“Data shows a precipitous decline in law enforcement activity from last June through this February. We found that across the 10 major cities we studied, deadly violence rose as engaged policing fell. Cities that cut (or threaten to) police budgets often saw the largest drops in active policing and the increases in homicide.”

Johnson said that police are giving up amid the lack of public support and threats of prosecution:

“Effective, crime-preventing policing entails a willingness by officers to actively confront lawbreakers, especially for drugs and gangs, which are the main drivers of urban violence. It also requires public support, full but fair accountability, and leaders who will defend the role of law enforcement.

“Today’s increasingly hostile work environment for law enforcement has made them more risk-averse, reactive and discouraged. Now, veteran officers are running for the exits, putting in their retirement papers at a record clip.”

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