Patrol shift changes to revolutionize crime fight, Baltimore police say

Baltimore police and city officials say a new police patrol schedule will put more officers on the streets at the most needed times, give officers more time off and cut overtime spending.

If it sounds too good to be true, Baltimore officials say it’s not — it’s just a change several years overdue.

Starting Sunday, city patrol officers will no longer work five eight-hour days per week on one of three patrol shifts. Instead, they will work four 10-hour days on one of four daily shifts.

The changes, made possible by a new union contract approved last year, give commanders greater flexibility. Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said residents will notice more officers driving and walking in their blocks as police deploy them based on crime statistics, calls for service and other “empirical data.”

“We’re a little more busy on Friday nights in July than we are on Tuesday nights in January,” Watts said. “We’re putting those officers where we need them at the time that we need them.”

For decades, the union contract set rigid deployment guidelines, calling for the same number of officers during shifts regardless of when crimes such as robberies and shootings typically occurred, Batts said.

Police responded to crime spikes by deploying more officers to problem areas, but it came at a cost — paying overtime.

But last May, police, union leaders and city officials agreed on a deal that included 13 percent raises for all officers this fiscal year, four-day workweeks that the union has long desired, and more flexibility for police brass to staff patrol shifts as needed.

“We have the ability to rapidly shift officers when we see emerging crime trends,” Batts said. “We’ve always done that in the past, but in the past it was at the expense to the taxpayer.”

To help the city pay for the raises, police last year eliminated 212 vacant officer positions that officials believed could be offset by new staffing schedules and patrol strategies. Police expect the new 10-hour shifts to help the department overlap officers during shift changes and pour more officers into crime “hot spots.”

Two more hours for officers to work each day also means two more hours for them to interact with residents and businesses on their beats, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Friday.

“Under this new schedule, Commissioner Batts will have the power to quickly and more efficiently flood neighborhoods experiencing increased violence,” Rawlings-Blake said. “He will be more effectively able to implement strategies that allow our police officers to spend more time getting to know our residents in Baltimore’s communities instead of frantically responding to calls for service for their entire shift.”

Baltimore’s 2,800 sworn police officers make up one of the best-staffed departments in the nation, based on the city’s population. Police did not respond Friday to a question about how many of those officers work in patrol.

Eight people have been killed in Baltimore in January, a violent start to the new year. But the most recent police statistics show year-over-year decreases in all major crime categories except robbery, aggravated assault and auto theft, all of which are up by more than 20 percent each. Nonfatal shootings remainED steady.

While testing the new schedule over two months late last year, Batts said, the test area saw a 21 percent reduction in crime.

City officials hope for a similar drop in overtime costs.

According to a city budget presentation, the Police Department was nearly $19 million over budget last year, with almost $11 million going to overtime and $8 million to pay for the new raises for officers.

City budget officials project that police will spend $38 million for overtime and pay raises this fiscal year, $16 million more than budgeted. The Police Department’s overall budget is about $444 million, or about 18 percent of the total city budget.

As of Dec. 10, the department accrued more than $425,000 in overtime costs when officers monitored several large anti-police brutality demonstrations last year. That doesn’t include other large demonstrations that came afterward. Updated figures were not available.

City Councilman Brandon M. Scott, vice chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said that in more than seven years working at City Hall, the No. 1 complaint from constituents and officers was about how police staffed patrol shifts.

“It’s 30 years overdue,” he said of the change.

Besides wishing for more officers on their blocks, neighborhood associations want district commanders to attend regular community meetings so they can inform the police about crime trends. Batts said the scheduling changes will free up more sergeants and lieutenants to attend such meetings.

“It’s going to really work,” said Jack Baker, a longtime community activist who leads the Southern District Police Community Relations Council.

Officers, meanwhile, get three days off each week.

“A happy cop is a productive cop,” said Gene Ryan, the police union president.

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.