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Baltimore Police Working To Retain Officers Despite High Crime & Overtime Issues

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- There's growing concern over a shortage of police officers in Baltimore City. Despite ramping up recruiting efforts, there's still big turnover in the department.

For only the second time in the last two decades, Baltimore hits 100 homicides before the end of April.

The murder rate is up 30 percent over last year -- a grim milestone. The murder that pushed the city over the  100-mark happened on Lombard Street, one of the busiest intersections downtown.

The number of officers is at its lowest point that it's been in the past decade, which has become cause for concern.

The city is operating with hundreds of fewer officers than at any point over the past decade.
With violent crime and overtime on the rise, some are raising alarm about public safety.

Baltimore is seeing a shortage of officers and recruitment that can't keep pace with those leaving the force.

While police have made inroads into filling vacant positions, they can't do it fast enough, fighting suburban departments and D.C. agencies for recruits.

Also to blame: labor-intensive 10-hour four-day-a-week schedules implemented by the last commissioner.

"When this schedule was implemented, there weren't enough people to make the schedule work, so unfortunately, we've been playing catch up," says Baltimore City Police spokesman T.J. Smith.

Throughout the 2000s, Baltimore never had fewer than 2,900 officers -- that number is roughly 2,500 today.

And when you take into account officers on leave, that number drops by 300 more. The department is spending almost $1 million dollars a month just on overtime to keep up.

It's noticeable to community activist Ericka Alston-Buck, with Penn-North Kids Safe Zone.

"When I walk up to one of the officers, the first thing I ask is what district are you out of, because 9o percent of the time, they're not a western district officer,  so everyone is working overtime."

"There needs to be something attractive about being a police officer here in Baltimore City. I don't see the attraction," she says.

In January, the police union president called staffing levels dangerous.

"You get in a crisis mode like we're in right now with crime out of control and not enough uniformed officers on the street,  I would say it's at a crisis point," says FOP President Lt. Gene Ryan.

"I find that offensive. I know that several of my commanders who find that offensive," says Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

A bright spot now for recruitment efforts: Maryland regulators just relaxed standards for marijuana use, making more people eligible to become officers.

"It's something that doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't matter how many authorized positions you have.You have to get those qualified applicants to fill those positions," says Smith.

The new policy bars applicants from smoking in the past three years. The old policy disqualified you if you smoked marijuana more than 20 times in your life or five times after age 21.

The main message is that the department is hiring. The beginning salary for a city officer is just under $49,000 plus benefits.

To find out more information about hiring with the Baltimore Police Department CLICK HERE.

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