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Accountabilityby Melissa Schober8:30 amFeb 26, 20180

By failing to police police overtime, Baltimore’s leaders are failing us all

Baltimore Brew’s series shows how spiraling police spending is wasting resources our city can ill-afford to squander (Op-Ed)

Above: Rec centers, after-school programs, parks and other areas are losing out to soaring police spending, a writer argues. Photo shows Baltimore Police in 2012 seizing a sign protesters intended for a City Hall rally. (Fern Shen)

As the mother of one of the Baltimore students who shivered in her unheated classroom last month, I do not look at reports questioning Baltimore’s massive police budget as a dry exercise.

Drilling down on the budget, I’ve been incensed by the steady rise in the police overtime spending – and even more so in light of Baltimore Brew’s series taking a closer look at what taxpayers may or may not be getting for what last year was $47 million in overtime spending

Police officers who haven’t made an arrest in years somehow out-earning the mayor via massive overtime? High-ranking lieutenants working $100-an-hour overtime gigs directing parade traffic?

Instead of that money flowing out of the city (to officers who overwhelmingly live in the suburbs), what if it stayed here and went to pre-k programs, rec centers, job training and the like?

While we’re waiting for the BPD to explain the Brew’s findings – and for the police overtime audit Mayor Catherine Pugh promised a year ago – let’s put this police overtime spending in context.

Biggest Slice of the Pie

The police budget dominates city spending.

Baltimore’s overall budget is $2.8 billion. The city-only contribution to the police budget is $471 million, but it balloons to $500 million with excess overtime.

That’s 17% of the total revenue and grant aid our city receives, or very nearly one in every five dollars spent. (That $500 million doesn’t include the $6.8 million we spend on school police, settlement agreements or civil judgments.)

Simply put: the continued un-monitored, un-audited spending on police is starving all other agencies of much needed funds.

If we think of revenue the city receives as a pie, the police are taking the largest slice. That means less funding for other areas, including health and human services, education, parks and recreation, etc.

The size of the pie is fixed to a large degree, unless we increase tax revenue by attracting more residents and/or raising taxes. Given that there is little appetite to raise taxes, especially in light of Baltimore’s high property tax rate, the budget is zero sum.

Meaning a dollar spent on police is a dollar that cannot be spent elsewhere.

In her last budget, Mayor Pugh cut spending for after school/out of school activities. The cut was $2.4 million.

“What I said to BUILD [Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development] was we don’t have any more money for their particular initiative that they want,” she said at the time.

She said she told the group, “We’ve put something like $5 million in schools and after-school programs and sorts, and that there is $12 million dollars in the youth fund.”

No more money? That statement is clearly false since the city is able and willing to exceed its initial $471 million appropriation so dramatically to cover overtime.

The police budget has an amount set aside for overtime – $17 million last year – but they more than blew through that, topping, as I’ve noted, $47 million.

And they ran through it the year before, too. In June 2017, just as the fiscal year was ending (fiscal years run July 1 to June 30), Mayor Pugh directed $18 million in “surplus” funds to cover police overtime.

What Bang for the Buck?

With Baltimore suffering terribly from record-setting homicide and crime rates, citizens might conceivably give the city a pass on the high police overtime.

But officials have not provided any evidence that the overtime spending is any way effective.

There are no studies demonstrating the need for such large amounts of overtime, no linkage to quality arrests and crime reductions. (As The Brew pointed out, Pugh’s predecessor also promised a report evaluating BPD overtime. Never happened.)

We hear arguments that overtime is necessary because of a staff schedule change or because we’re short on officers, but, again, the data seems not to bear this out.

Our per capita rate of officers is very high and police spending appears driven by something other than the number of officers:

• FY2015 $417.074 million in city funds for 3,470 positions, 2,056 patrol officers

• FY2016 $444.184 million in city funds for 3,259 positions, 1,851 patrol officers

• FY2017 $451.472 million in city funds for 3,125 positions, 1,821 patrol officers

• FY2018 $471.969 million in city funds for 3,113 positions, 1,800 patrol officers

One could expect some inflation, but we’re spending $54 million more on policing – without OT! –  over the last four fiscal years for 256 fewer officers.

What, exactly, are we buying with that increase if not more officers?

OT vs. Health, Kids, Parks

To put things in perspective, that $54 million is one-fifth of what we spend to educate 80,000 kids.

It is a little less than half of the *entire* budget of the Health Department ($141 million in FY18). It is more than the *entire* budget for the Enoch Pratt Library System ($39 million in FY18). It is more than the *entire* budget for Rec and Parks ($47 million in FY18).

Simply put: the continued un-monitored, un-audited spending on police is starving all other agencies of much needed funds.

We’re spending on police to the exclusion of other agencies and getting little in return. Consider how the amount we spent on police overtime last year could be used.

•  We could triple what we contribute to capital improvements for city schools ($17 million + $40 million = $57 million)

• We could employ 5,000 young people for 10 weeks at 35 hours a week for $10.28 an hour for $18 million.

• With the $22 million leftover after my hypothetical jobs program we could double our contribution to school capital repair.

A Safety Issue

Apart from the budget starvation, allowing any employee to accrue overtime in such amounts bespeaks a poor commitment to safety.

One officer, according to The Brew, had overtime hours that translated into 75-hour workweeks, “far beyond the hour limits of truck drivers or railroad engineers.”

Do we really believe that officers apparently working 13+ hour days can do their jobs efficiently and alertly, while respecting the constitutional rights of the citizens they police?

We need to recognize this out-of-control police spending for what it really is – a colossal management failure on the part of city leaders.

What Mayor Pugh and the City Council need to do – and aren’t doing – is obvious:

If there’s fraud, stop it. Fire any officer who tries to get away with “G-days” and “slash time” and any supervisor who approves it.

If there’s abuse, reform or dismantle a system that seems designed to benefit a few at the expense of many. Redirect those dollars to help make this city healthier, more prosperous, better educated – and, yes, safer – for all.

– Melissa Schober is a health policy specialist and Baltimore city schools advocate who lives in the Harwood neighborhood.

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