Batts: Police will rein in budget

March 21, 2013|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Police Department has already gone over its overtime budget for the fiscal year, which ends in June, but Police Commissioner Anthony Batts says he will rein in the agency's spending.

"We will be in budget at the end of the fiscal year. Period," Batts said during an interview at police headquarters last week. 

How, exactly, remains unclear. Pressed for details this week, Batts said he has a plan but needs approval from City Hall. 

The Police Department's overall operating budget this year is $410 million, and there's been a $3.4 million spillover on overtime spending. Police say that they are battling a high attrition rate, with 150 vacancies, not including officers sidelined by medical or disciplinary issues. Batts, who became commissioner last fall, has criticized the agency's slow pace of internal discipline, and has spoken about redeploying officers - two longstanding issues with no quick fix.

"Sixty-percent of our overtime is filling in [vacancies], so we have enough bodies on the street and everybody's safe," said Judy Pal, Batts' chief of staff. 

Deputy Commissioner John Skinner won't simply turn off overtime spending, but are working with commanders daily to manage the spending. "We have to win the crime fight, plain and simple," he said.

Batts said the department appears to be headed toward an exodus of officers leaving for other agencies, which would exaserbate the overtime problem. "I'm seeing signs that have me worried that we're going to go through another uptick," he said.

Other issues are causing a budget pinch, Pal says, including paying for 25 officers that were hired using a federal grant that has since run dry, and legal fees that she says have not been properly anticipated in the past. 

They are exploring use of asset forfeiture funds - proceeds from evidence seized during investigations - to fill some of the holes, though there are detailed restrictions on how that money can be used.

Batts said that police are also exploring whether to ask organizations that run large-scale events to pay more for police services. "There are cost factors that go to parades or other functions that are not fully funded through our budget, which have a lasting impact," he said.

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