Union says big changes needed to curb overtime for Baltimore police

BALTIMORE - Overtime is a huge cost for Baltimore's police force.  An ABC2 News investigation found at least $30-million was spent just in fiscal 2013.  But are all those extra shifts putting too much strain on the department?  Police union leadership says massive changes to the department would ease the burden on city officers.

It is a job that can't be done thinking about punching a time clock.  Crime doesn't care if it's five o'clock or if a police officer has plans.  Overtime is part of the job, but Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott has concerns about the toll it takes on the officers who work it, "I'm worried, not only about their safety, but the safety of the citizens and folks they're working with because eventually the human body can only work so much."

An ABC2 News investigation found some officers are working a lot of overtime , enough to earn tens of thousands in overtime according to the city's salary database.  It shows at least 200 Baltimore police officers who made at least $35,000 in OT.

City leaders, Baltimore police brass and the police union agree there's a need to curb overtime spending. But Bob Cherry, FOP President, says it goes deeper than that, saying, "It's not just about the overtime.  What you guys are touching on here is one little piece of a much bigger problem and a bigger puzzle that the city, for years, has put on the back burner."

Cherry believes the only way the police department can start solving that puzzle is to update the city's crime map.  He says it hasn't been revamped since 1984, which means the way officers are deployed around the city is based on crime statistics and population numbers from 30 years ago.   

As a result Cherry says there aren't enough cops in certain places, so areas like the northeastern district, where violent crime has become more problematic, are understaffed. 

He also says so-called "safe neighborhoods" like Mount Vernon and Federal Hill need refocused crime fighting efforts because of the number of burglaries and assaults they've seen in recent years.  Cherry says, "From the union side we've been pushing this for years and it's frustrating when it's a conversation that's been had for the last 20 years."

The FOP expresses disappointment that there hasn't been a shift in deployment since Commissioner Anthony Batts joined the force last year. While Batts' Chief of Staff Judy Pal says she can't speak to why the map hasn't been updated by prior administrations, she says strategy changes are in the works under this one.

Consultants are examining the agency from top to bottom.  And Pal says they hope to do a full staffing analysis with the union in the next three to four months. 

She tells ABC2, "One of the things we need to look at is how we police smarter.  Are the police officers where they need to be and do we have the right number of police officers when there's that crime? That causes some of the overtime."

But moving officers isn't the only thing the FOP wants.  In the 15-page "Blueprint for Improved Policing," union leadership also asks for more competitive pay, saying it's necessary to recruit qualified officers.

City police have posted at least 100 vacancies in the last few years.  And pay may be a factor according to Cherry, who says city police salaries are generally 18-percent less than the average in other jurisdictions.

The FOP believes a salary bump won't just bring in new officers, but also keep the valuable ones the city already has and has struggled to keep. Cherry says, "We need to change that crime map, redeploy and give these guys something to work for so they don't have to be chasing overtime.  Instead they can be chasing the thugs on the street like they should be doing."

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