BALTIMORE – You can’t reform what you do not have. That seems to be a problem in Baltimore as reform efforts are being hindered by staffing shortages.
Recruiting efforts of the Baltimore Police Department cannot keep pace with cops leaving the job as the agency has about 400 vacancies among sworn personnel. In 2020, the agency hired one above attrition for the entire year, ABC News reported.
Like many police departments nationwide, Baltimore has had difficulty retaining and hiring new officers in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests and riots.
For Baltimore, a city with chronically high rates of violent crime and several high profile crimes committed by some of its personnel, there’s a constant challenge in drawing enough new personnel to stem the outflow, including retirements and a flood of younger officers with roughly three to seven years on the job surrendering their badges.
As a result, the city is now facing new kinds of pressure. The police department is required to fulfill hundreds of benchmarks for staffing, accountability, use-of-force policies among other issues prior to demonstrating it’s a transformed agency, able to get out from under a sweeping oversight program.
The city has been under federal oversight since 2017, after the U.S. Justice Department released a scathing report detailing longstanding patterns of racial profiling and excessive force. Some cities return to local control after a few years of a “consent decree,” others take far longer. For instance, the Oakland Police Department has been under one for nearly 20 years.
A staffing plan calls for 2,785 sworn officers. However, they fall woefully short as the city police had 2,398 members on payroll in recent months, according to ABC News.
U.S. District Judge James Bredar who is overseeing the process, said without more bodies the city’s police department “will be unable to meet some of the consent decree’s most basic requirements.”
Baltimore Police Department spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said the agency needs to add positions to its budget authorization to meet the long-term staffing goals.
Less than half of BPD’s vacancies are due to retirements, Eldridge confirmed, which means a high volume of officers are willing to vacate their positions without further benefits.
Although the city has faced pressure to slash the police budget, earlier this year the Baltimore City Council authorized $555 million for the department, which is a $28 million increase. However, this was largely to cover pension obligations and higher insurance premiums.
Patrol shortages occur nearly everyday in the city’s nine districts, which each have three shifts. The head of the local police union, Michael Mancuso, said routinely drafting officers to work patrol is punishing, ABC reported.
“Officers are burned out,” he said.