BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. — Police departments all over the country are dealing with staffing shortages. Baltimore City has 259 vacancies out of a max potential staff of 2,639. They're the 11th largest police department in the country.
"If we don’t do something to quickly, we’re gonna find ourselves in the same position as Baltimore City," said the President of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #4.
The Baltimore County Police Department is the 21st largest police department in the country, covering 682 square miles. Fully staffed, the department has 1,947 sworn-in members. Right now, they're down 108.
"With less officers out there you have less patrol, less stops," said Rose. He added, "it just gives you less time to investigate an incident and it increases response times. Our members have done a very good job in holding back the water behind the dam but the dams breaking, and our people are getting tired and we’re having less people to hold the water back."
At the end of July, Rose posted a letter online called "A Breaking Point." This letter outlined the challenges the Baltimore County Police Department is facing.
"Over the last 20 years or so, past administration has let the department decline in actual facilities and equipment." He explained how they're "doing one day of in-service training at the Long Green Volunteer Fire Department and the second day of in-service training at the Dundalk flea market."
Rose stressed, "is anybody seeing this? We’re not broken. We’re still a good department. We have a lot of good people but we’re in bad shape."
WMAR-2 News' Erin MacPherson sat down with Chief Melissa Hyatt to find out why they're seeing these issues and what's being done about it. She said as soon as she was sworn-in two years ago, these were things she immediately noticed. She explained that after talking with officers and community members the "focus needed to be on things like officer equipment, training, wellness... all those different levels of preparation and investment that we needed to place in our employees."
Last year, the department spent $1.2 million upgrading it's shooting range. Earlier this year, it expanded their mobile crisis to better help those in the community suffering with a behavioral crisis.
Help for the mental health of their community members and help for their officers. She explained how officer wellness resources were voluntary. Now, they have permanent positions for officer wellness and peer support.
"We want to normalize people seeking assistance or some of the resources we have," explained Chef Hyatt. She added, "our employees are our most valuable resource, and we have to take care of them. First of all, we need to take care of them because underneath the uniforms they’re people under there, they have families and it benefits all of us to retain them, to keep them in good health and to keep them in a condition where they're able to serve our communities and continue to serve them well."
The next building upgrade is for the Wilkens precinct. Ultimately, Chief Hyatt would love to have their own training facility. Right now, the department utilizes areas like CCBC.
She added how the department has "spent a lot of money on things like personal protective equipment, other protective gear, ballistic shields, equipment for our dive team that was expired."
When it comes to staffing issues, Chief Hyatt said she was warned about what we're seeing now right away. She explained, "when I walked in the door, I was made aware of a hiring freeze which ended in the early 90s and it resulted in mass hiring." Now those officers are up for retirement. On average, the department has about 70 people retire a year. In the last two years, they department has averaged about 90 people retire.
"Right now, unfortunately, we are just in a time with the national climate in law enforcement that it is making it an easier time for people to make the decision to retire that are eligible," said Chief Hyatt. She explained how other officers have left for other reasons. When it comes to those who resigned, she said about 40 percent quit to avoid being fired.
"We have had other situations in which police officers might be choosing other professions, moving to other parts of the country their family," said Chief Hyatt. She added, "we have had some officers leave for laterals for other police departments." So far this year, four of their officers decided to move to another department. They've gained 11 from other departments.
Of the current 108 openings, the biggest gap is in patrol since it makes up 70 percent of the sworn-in workforce. To fill those spots, officers must work overtime.
"Filling patrol officers is our priority, and it will continue to be our priority until we get to the point that we don’t have to hold officers over and things like that," said Chief Hyatt. She added, "it is a balance and we do want to make sure that our officers are getting the rest and the time off that they need." This is a stressful job and stressful time."
The department has a new employment and recruitment team. Just a few weeks ago the department implemented a big change, allowing people to retake the entry level written exam.
"These qualified candidates are going to have a second opportunity. I mean, think about that for a second. Could you imagine if people couldn’t retest for the bar or a medical degree or a driver’s license? One shot and that was it. We allow people to retest for our physical agility test if they don't pass it, but we couldn’t even get them to that point because if they didn't pass that initial test, they were out. So that's really exciting progress for us."
Her focus is to continue to make progress in the department to bring in more officers and keep them.
Rose said he's pleased with the Chief's efforts, and he just wants people to get excited about working in law enforcement again. "There's been a lot of bad press for police," said Rose. He added, "we have to go out and change that mindset and make people start saying once again I want to be a police officer!"
There are 34 recruits scheduled to graduate on September 2nd and 40 recruits are scheduled to graduate in March 2022.
There is a recruitment event happening on Saturday, August 14th from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at CCBC in Essex if you wanted to check it out!