An unexpected exodus of Baltimore police officers before cuts to their pension benefits took effect has left the department short-staffed at a critical juncture in its efforts to reduce crime, the Baltimore Sun reports. Officers have complained for months that the patrol division is not fully staffed, a contention that department commanders had called untrue. For the first time, the city’s police commissioner is now warning that “staffing is a huge problem” and that shortages could risk breaking momentum in curtailing homicides, shootings, and other crime.
A police spokesman said 42 officers left in June, far more than the 17 who departed in the same month in 2009 and the 20 in June 2008. The department is 106 officers shy of a full complement of 3,119 sworn personnel. To save money, the department has cut the number of academy classes from five or six a year to two or three. A class of 40 officers – 25 funded through a federal stimulus grant – graduated last week; another class with 60 people is scheduled to begin Friday; and a third could begin in the fall. Changes in the pension system – which strip more money from the paychecks of officers and firefighters – were made necessary by a deficit in the police and fire retirement fund that could have cost the cash-strapped city $65 million. That problem came as the mayor had to close a $121 million budget shortfall by raising taxes and new fees.