O'Malley proposes raises for officers

June 08, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Michael James contributed to this article.

Worried by the steady defection of veteran Baltimore police officers, a city councilman proposed yesterday that money be spent on pay raises instead of on hiring 60 new recruits.

At a council hearing on the Police Department's proposed $195 million budget for fiscal 1995, Councilman Martin O'Malley said he was concerned by the continued loss of police officers to better-paid jobs in the surrounding suburbs.

Mr. O'Malley, a 3rd District Democrat, suggested shifting at least part of the $2 million set aside for hiring new officers to higher pay raises. The idea drew considerable interest from police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, who said 248 officers have left the force in the past year.

"I'm bleeding to death," Mr. Frazier said after the hearing. "I have to absolutely stem the tide of attrition."

Like all of Baltimore's unionized municipal employees, police officers are getting a cost-of-living raise this year of just more than 2 percent.

But Mr. Frazier agreed that higher pay could give the department a little more influence in retaining longtime police officers wearied by escalating violence and limited opportunities for career advancement.

Nearly a quarter of the city police force, roughly 700 members, will be eligible to retire this year. At any given time, the commissioner said, the department has 80 to 135 vacant positions in a force of 3,031 sworn officers.

He recounted talking to one 20-year veteran with a college degree who is leaving the force because of frustration with the pay and the lack of opportunities.

"Here I have a 20-year officer that just checked out," Mr. Frazier said, shaking his head.

In Baltimore, newly hired patrol officers are paid $23,000 a year. After five years, they are paid an annual salary of $34,000 -- 10 percent to 15 percent lower than the pay offered by some neighboring counties.

Lt. Chuck Milland, vice president of the city Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said he favored Mr. O'Malley's initiative and noted that "while we would like to see the department expand in numbers, a decent raise is long overdue."

Lieutenant Milland, a shift commander in the Northern District, said he has lost several young officers to higher-paying departments in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, and veteran officers to the temptation of retirement pensions.

"These officers are turning elsewhere, and that's a danger to the city. We're training them, they learn the ropes here, and then they're snatched away because we can't pay them enough to make ends meet," Lieutenant Milland said. "They can't have a decent life on the salaries we pay."

Mr. O'Malley argued that "one motivated police officer can do a lot more than three parked behind Dunkin' Donuts. . . . You just wonder if it might not be more cost-effective to give them a little more money."

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