BALTIMORE (WJZ) — While protesters nationwide have demanded cuts to large police budgets, Baltimore is one of the few cities taking action. The city council approved slicing more than $22 million from the budget and recommended shifting that money to community programs.
Reaction to defunding Baltimore’s police budget by $22 million is mixed in a city that struggles with violent crime.
“There has to be some kind of equilibrium. You, of course, cannot defund an entire department in my opinion because we do need police,” said Kendra, a longtime Baltimore City resident. “At the same time, we need other services to help the community as well.”
“Crime is out of control in this city,” said Larry, a lifelong Baltimore City resident. “And if we defund the police, the citizens are going to start policing the streets basically.”
In a memo to the city council, the commissioner said overtime cuts could impact the crime lab, among other functions.
While the movement to defund police has gained traction, Baltimore is one of the rare cities that has actually made cuts.
WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren spoke to Dr. Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore, who said new cuts could have a profound impact on a department. BPD is already dealing with a shortage of officers and a leaner budget because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This kind of reduction in budget is unprecedented,” Ross said—and noted it usually comes with longer debates over funding. “It’s not going to be a cakewalk, and there’s going to be a major rethinking of priorities.”
The city council wants the extra money to go toward rec centers and other social programs. “What’s going to happen to those cost savings?” Ross asks.
An audit of the police department released this month shows one place the BPD could get much needed funds: The department is charging organizations a fraction of what it costs to provide security and crowd control during special events—using rates that haven’t been updated for years.
“…The BPD is not recovering the actual costs for police coverage at special events. The BPD bills and is reimbursed by special event organizers for overtime worked by the BPD officers based on the flat rates, which have been in effect for several years without any updates or adjustments,” wrote auditor Josh Pasch.
The department will have to take a close look at every penny with the possibility of more cuts looming.
“I think this is a really big challenge and it will go beyond budget cuts,” Ross said of the department’s future.
Police reform has been a major issue nationwide. This week, Maryland’s House Speaker Adrienne Jones and other lawmakers asked Governor Larry Hogan to sign an executive order banning officers’ use of chokeholds, among other reforms.
Maryland’s House Speaker and Democratic delegates sent this letter to the governor —asking him to sign an executive order than bans police use of chokeholds and implements a variety of policing reforms. @wjz pic.twitter.com/jbnO2RjMPO
— Mike Hellgren (@HellgrenWJZ) June 16, 2020
WJZ received a response from the governor’s office: “…We will certainly give thoughtful consideration to the speaker’s letter as well as the conclusions and recommendations of the workgroup she has established to examine these serious issues.”