Several lawmakers pounced on Baltimore Police brass last night, accusing them of misleading the public with a budgetary “shell game” to hide the extent of overtime spending.
The BPD has repeatedly promised to increase hiring and to assign more officers to patrol, blaming staffing shortages for high overtime costs – projected to be $43.8 million in FY19, well over the agency’s $20 million overtime allotment.
But that’s not what has happened, numbers presented at a City Council hearing showed.
This year to date, 116 people (sworn officers and civilians) were hired by the department, but 145 people left, Council members were told by Drew Vetter, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
“This Council has been asking about attrition every month, and we keep hearing, ‘Oh we’re hiring more people than are leaving,’” Councilman Brandon Scott fumed.
“You guys go radio silent on attrition and now we know why,” Scott continued. “Tell the truth. All the time.”
“You swore we’d have more officers on the street,” Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young snapped. “We have less officers on the street.”
Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who in recent months has been publicly pressing BPD for staffing and other budget information, objected in the midst of one prolonged back-and-forth.
“The public is being very blatantly misled,” Dorsey said, complaining that Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle had “failed to respond to eight emails” from him.
The contentious exchanges reflected the chronic state of tension between police and the public in Baltimore.
Typically muted inside City Hall, the schism has become more visible lately under a more activist City Council.
The hearing began with condemnations of the police officer shown in a viral video repeatedly punching and, at one point, kicking a man who does not fight back on Saturday.
Scott called the beating “a cowardly assault on a citizen of Baltimore,” and said it was “a clear example of why we need structural change in the BPD.”
Councilman Eric Costello, who chaired the hearing, called the attack “disgusting.”
But no one – no city official, at least – was uttering the officer’s name.
Tuggle was asked earlier in the day at police headquarters why BPD was not naming the officer who beat Dashawn McGrier – a 26-year-old male being treated for possible fractures and other injuries.
The silence was not normal, even in Baltimore, where BPD typically releases an officer’s name after a major incident involving a citizen, especially if the officer has been suspended.
The department, however, was not releasing the name this time because the officer had resigned. “Unless and until that officer is charged criminally,” Tuggle said. “I’m not going to comment on his name.”
But activist Shaivaughn Crawley made a point of uttering the officer’s name when he spoke during the public portion of the Council hearing.
“His name is Arthur Williams. . . I think that’s very important that we specifically talk about this,” Crawley said.
(McGrier’s attorney has identified Williams as a newly-hired officer seen punching and tackling his client in the video.)
Crawley criticized the Council for past votes rubber stamping the agency’s budget, even when key aspects of the budget remained “confusing” and “almost like a scam.”
At that, a loud crackling sound could be heard in the audience.
It was Lt. Col. Richard Worley, crumpling his empty plastic water bottle and then striding out of Council chamber in apparent anger over the remark.
“We’re going in opposite direction”
With activists (including some in the room last night) questioning overtime payments that last year reached the spending levels of entire city departments, BPD had promised to reassign personnel to get more officers on the street.
[Baltimore Brew has written at length about overtime by city police.]
At a news conference with Mayor Catherine Pugh last month, Tuggle promised that another 115 officers would be assigned to patrol.
Instead, the total number on patrol has dropped by nearly 40 officers, Dorsey said, citing his staff’s review of the data.
There were 921 names on the list of patrolling officers in June, but by August, the list had been whittled down to 885 names.
“So instead we’re going in the opposite direction,” Dorsey said. “I’m concerned that the things we are being told are not accurate.”
BPD budget officials promised to supply Council members with the additional information they requested.
The police hearings will resume on September 5, Costello announced.