After months of pressure from city and county officials heaped upon the Baltimore Police Department and repeated attempts to hamper police work in the city, the ranks have been thinning. As officers retire, others quit, and as budget cuts and policy changes affect still more, it appears that few new recruits are lining up as replacements.
A report by the city’s police union reveals that there are nearly 200 fewer officers today than at this time one year ago, and the lower number of officers poses a safety hazard, CBS Baltimore reports.
“You get in a crisis mode like we’re in right now with crime out of control and not enough uniformed officers on the street,” president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lt. Gene Ryan told CBS. “I would say it’s at a crisis point.”
The union chief also noted that the upper echelon’s decision to create a series of special units has also contributed to fewer patrolmen on the streets. Ryan noted that 999 officers are assigned to these new special neighborhood patrols.
“You don’t have enough police officers to patrol the streets safely protecting themselves, much less protecting the citizens of Baltimore,” Ryan insisted.
Police brass would not respond to the union’s criticism.
Police morale is also at an all-time low in the city as officers have quit in droves even as the murder rate soars.
Baltimore ended 2016 with the second-highest number of murders per capita in its history, reports say. Meanwhile, the number of officers dropped another 6.1 percent in 2016. Since 2014, the force has seen hundreds of officers leave the job. At the end of 2014, the city had a 2,805-officer force, but there were only 2,634 officers at the end of 2015. By the closing days of 2016, that number had fallen to 2,445 officers, according to Yahoo News.
Not only has political pressure due to various department prosecutions hit morale hard, but budget cuts, even in the face of rising crime, have also put a crimp in the department.
With the political and media scrutiny, Baltimore officers have felt like they are “walking on eggshells.”
“All of us are walking on eggshells. What’s the next explosive thing that’s going to set the powder keg off? What’s the next matchstick?” Ryan told the Baltimore Sun. “If society wants us to be a softer police department, you have to be careful what you wish for.”
The worst pressure began after the death of suspect Freddie Gray in 2015. The man’s death while in police custody sparked months of riots and property destruction, all masking a sharp rise in crime rates, including murder.
By June of last year, the final prosecutions of six Baltimore cops were dismissed in the case of Gray’s death.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com.