BALTIMORE (AP) — The contract for Michael Harrison, selected by the mayor to become Baltimore City’s next police commissioner, includes a provision that pays him a full year’s salary if the city council does not vote to confirm him.
And that salary is the most Baltimore has ever paid a commissioner: $275,000 a year. The contract runs for 5 years and comes with a host of other perks.
They include 3% annual raises, a $3,000 monthly housing allowance for the first year, and relocation expenses.
Harrison, who most recently headed the New Orleans Police Department, will also be able to name his own eight-person command staff and chief of staff. The city will offer those employees 5-year contracts as well.
Mayor Pugh defended the contract as a good deal. She repeated what the non-profit Police Executive Research Forum told her. “Because of where crime was in this city, we’d have to pay between $310,000 to $350,000. We didn’t.”
Baltimore’s spending board unanimously approved the contract Wednesday morning without discussion.
Pugh said, “We’ve got to get under 300,” referring to the city’s number of murders. She said she was looking forward to Harrison starting on an interim basis on Monday.
Harrison will also get an unspecified amount of extra money if he meets performance targets. The exact goals and dollar amounts were not spelled out in the contract. The mayor said they could include reducing violent crimes and meeting recruiting numbers.
The full five-year value of the contract would be paid out if Harrison was fired “without cause.”
But the new contract also gives the mayor wider latitude to get rid of Harrison if she chooses.
Baltimore has been without a confirmed commissioner for almost nine months, since Pugh’s last pick, Darryl DeSousa was indicted on federal tax charges and resigned.
Joel Fitzgerald, the mayor’s pick to replace him, decided to stay in his job leading the police force in Fort Worth, Texas.
Pugh fired former commissioner Kevin Davis in January 2018.
Harrison would be earning a considerable amount more than his predecessors if he is confirmed. DeSousa was making $210,000 a year. Davis was earning $200,000 annually. Anthony Batts earned $190,000.
As city leaders try to fill the vacancy at the top, they’re also facing a shortage of rank-and-file officers. Baltimore Police confirmed to WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren they have a shortage of 500 officers. Last year, they hired 184 but lost 220 officers as the department continued to shrink.
There are bright spots.
The number of women who have applied has almost doubled since 2017 to 577 last year. Almost 600 city residents have also applied—as leaders press for officers who live in the areas they serve.
But the mayor says the real story is the number of new applications the city is getting since they switched to an online application system. Police say they get roughly 80 each week, a 400% increase over the old system.
Police tell WJZ they can’t keep up with the increase in applications and a “major priority” is increasing staffing and the number recruiting classes. Mayor Pugh says they’re turning to Coppin State University and the University of Baltimore for help in training.
Pugh said a new union contract that went into effect this year should result in an effective “25 percent increase” in officers on the streets. They will now work traditional 5-day schedules, with 2 days off instead of the 4-day schedules with 3 off days they had been working. The older schedules lead to massive overtime expenses.
The salary of a new officer is $51,953 plus incentives.
Through it all, violence has continued to plague Baltimore, with almost a murder a day in 2019.
Hellgren spoke to D.H. Halsey, a northwest Baltimore resident who said there are still trust issues between police and the community. She also said reducing crime is about more than adding officers.
“The mayor and government can only do so much. We the people need to start loving each other more than hurting each other,” she said.
As for the new commissioner’s salary, “I do think it’s too much. It’s a revolving door, but I do understand you have to pay more to get someone to take interest in the position.”
Antonio, who declined to give his last name and who also lives in northwest Baltimore, told Hellgren the number of killings is “outrageous.”
He hopes Harrison succeeds. “He’s going to have a big job on his hands. He deserves every penny.”