City leaders: Baltimore needs more officers to work security at events without breaking the bank

For every Ravens touchdown and every Orioles inning, there are men and women in blue there to pay witness.  They're not watching the game.  They're watching you.  And no matter who wins, we found the money spent comes at a loss to the department.

DOCUMENTS: Police overtime invoices

As fans, we get caught up in the pomp and the excitement of watching the players whose names, numbers and stats we've committed to memory.  Our love of the game colors the experience so much that we're blind to what's happening in the background.  We don’t even see that behind the boys of summer stand men and women with a badge.

Detective Bob Cherry, the President of Baltimore’s Fraternal Order of Police union, tells says game time shifts at events like the Orioles games are a hot commodity.

"We never have a problem filling those spots," Cherry said. "People want them, and when the email goes out, they fill up fast."

Officers want to fill spots on a roster, not to join Manny Machado and Buck Showalter in the dugout. Instead, they’ll be working behind the scenes with the team in a different uniform: the Baltimore Police Department. 

"We're appreciative that we're able to work these events,” Cherry said, “It puts money in our officers’ pockets."

Officers earn that money through overtime, keeping watch over the crowds. City cops get time and half for the time they spend keeping you safe inside the stadium walls. -- It ain’t peanuts. 

At Oriole Park last season alone, the cost billed to the Maryland Stadium Authority for police overtime was more than $1,000,000. Some series, like the three-day homestand with the Yankees get billed for as much as $127,000, just in police overtime.  That’s the cost laid out in invoices obtained by ABC2 investigators.  But we discovered these papers only tell half the story.  

Last fall, representatives from the Baltimore Police Department told ABC2 special events overtime wasn’t counted in their overall budget because the expense was paid back by the teams and event coordinators that needed their services.  The agency told us it couldn’t find the contracts to detail the reimbursement.  But, we did, and we discovered that’s not entirely true.

In November, BPD Commissioner Anthony Batts laid out a strategic plan developed with the help of outside consultants.  In a press conference he said, "These recommendations are presented to the people of Baltimore so they can hold us strictly accountable."

RELATED: ABC2 investigators find highest paid city employees are everyday police officers

And that’s exactly what we’re doing, using information detailed in that plan to explain how all the green shelled out for special events overtime is part of the reason the department's budget is in the red, year-after-year. 

City Councilman William Cole understands why.  He says, "How they're (BPD officers) compensated for that overtime is different than how the city is billing it."

That’s because even though teams like the Ravens pay back every penny they’re billed for special events overtime, they don’t pay the full cost.  Last season, the Maryland Stadium Authority was billed for more than $472,000 in special events OT.  But that bill reflects a flat rate we discovered. 

It turns out the BPD charges a $45/hour rate across the board for overtime.  That’s the case even though the officers we found on duty at many events are detectives, sergeants and lieutenants who actually make much more. 

Cole says the goal of the flat rate was to give event organizers consistency so they wouldn't get nailed with a bigger bill if higher ranking officers ended up working their event. The result is that for every hour, higher-paid cops are on the job working overtime with Baltimore’s teams, at large concerts or even charity races, the city loses money.  

In 2013 alone, the Baltimore Police Department ate the cost of nearly $2,000,000 in special events overtime that was not reimbursed.

"There is no doubt that it is a concern,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, “Overtime is a concern.  The special events budget is a concern.  The issue is how do we resolve that?"

Although Batts’ strategic plan talks about proposals to hike up the rate and charge more, Rawlings-Blake says the city would lose events big and small if the price for policing them goes up.

"I believe very strongly we should have a vibrant community that is full of activities and special events and in order to do that sometimes it requires us to supplement or eat some of those costs," Rawlings-Blake said.

Those costs are something the mayor and members of city council believe Baltimore gets back, when the people who show up for events and pay it forward.

"It may be a loss to the police department's budget, but it's certainly made up if you think about filling hotel rooms for an Army/Navy football game or a Justin Timberlake concert," Councilman Cole said.

And speaking of JT and JayZ, their one-night show came with a $46,000 overtime bill for M&T Bank Stadium, plus the costs

we don't see on paper.  Councilman Cole says it's worth it because big events that go off safely bring people back to Baltimore and its other attractions restaurants and hotels.

"While the police department feels the pain of overtime on their end, the city does very well.  Not to mention it's a great marketing opportunity for the city," Cole said.

City leaders say that marketing pays off long-term for Charm City.  But the key, they say, is striking the balance.  Baltimore needs enough officers, they believe, to guard the plate, without breaking the bank.

RELATED: Experts: Safety at events begins with organization

"There is, it's not even a hidden cost. There's an actual cost to providing that protection, and that's the challenge the city always faces," Cole said.

We have repeatedly asked Commissioner Batts and his staff for an on-camera interview regarding this issue, dating back to December. They have refused, even though this issue relates directly to problems with the police budget highlighted in Batts' strategic plan.  A police department spokesman referred us to the mayor’s office for comment.

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