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Ben Conarck

The Baltimore Banner

March 22, 2024

More than 1,000 members of Baltimore’s police union for rank-and-file officers overwhelmingly rejected the city’s latest contract offer, setting up a showdown with Mayor Brandon Scott in the heat of his reelection bid.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 held the vote Thursday, and more than 99% of the union’s members casted “no” votes. The vote was the culmination of weeks of an impasse in labor contract negotiations with Scott and Police Commissioner Richard Worley, said union President Mike Mancuso, who called the city’s final offer “shameful and insulting” in a letter released the evening of the vote.

“The city offer would only put the Baltimore Police Department further behind in pay and working conditions compared to other large police departments in the state; agencies that continue to attract our recruits and veteran officers,” Mancuso said in the letter. He added that “many of our officers are 19% to 30% below in pay compared to competing jurisdictions.”

As it stands today, the department is 700 officers short of its fully staffed capacity, according to the police union.

The mayor’s office said Friday it was “disappointed the FOP is taking this approach.”

“The mayor looks forward to resolving the concerns and finalizing negotiations,” spokesperson Bryan Doherty said.

The police department did not respond to requests for comment.

The blow from the police union came just hours after Scott won a key endorsement from the state’s second-largest labor union: AFSCME Maryland Council 3. Scott also won endorsements from the unions representing Baltimore firefighters.

The city’s leaders and independent assessments of the department mandated by its federal court oversight agree that the agency is significantly understaffed. One recent assessment concluded that, while those staffing shortages are hindering officers’ ability to respond to calls, police are also spending too much time in their vehicles and not enough time walking the streets of the communities they patrol.

Sgt. William MacDonald, a vice president of the union, told The Baltimore Banner on Thursday that the union is “currently on the path to arbitration” to settle the contract dispute, which would be the first time since 2017. He said he would welcome a new offer from the city — he just didn’t expect one.

MacDonald said the department continues to experience a net loss of officers each year, meaning more people leave the department than are hired and graduate from the academy. This year, he suspected, would be no different.

“This year, even if every academy trainee graduated and came out of the academy, they would only graduate around 70 trainees,” MacDonald said. “They will more than likely lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 to 160 [officers].”

Judge James Bredar, who oversees the Baltimore Police Department’s federal consent decree, has called the agency’s staffing levels a crisis that is impeding the department in improving community relations.

Guidelines on community policing call for officers to spend nearly half their shifts walking their beats, but Bredar has said such a ratio would be “physically impossible” due to the high volume of calls and lack of officers to respond to them.

The staffing shortage has made the department heavily reliant on mandated overtime shifts, which create working conditions that drive officers to other agencies who may be offering better pay with less call volume.

The overtime pay comes at a significant cost and not always with adequate oversight. A recent state audit found that the police department racked up more than $66 million in overtime wages over an 18-month period due to a lack of supervisory oversight and failure to enforce the agency’s policies.

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