A Breaking Point in Baltimore County
The Baltimore County Police Department (BCoPD), like many departments across the country, is struggling to overcome significant increases in early retirements and resignations, in addition to large drops in qualified applicants. Unlike many similarly sized jurisdictions, however (BCPD is the 21st largest police department in the country), our challenges are compounded by decades of neglect and under-investment that together have left us with more than 100 officer vacancies today.
Once a highly regarded agency that regularly recruited the top 10% of applicants to our ranks, we are now systematically losing officers to nearby jurisdictions like Montgomery County, Howard County and Anne Arundel County, all of which can offer more substantial benefits, updated technology and equipment and 21st Century facilities.
Since January of this year, the BCoPD has logged 99 retirements and 31 resignations compared to 47 and 32 in 2020. Since January 2020, 19 officers have left the agency for employment in other local, more modern police departments and we’re losing senior officers to early retirement at numbers greater than ever before. At the same time, BCoPD is unable to recruit enough quality candidates to keep up with attrition or to hire enough candidates to fill a recruit class, resulting in approximately 118 sworn vacancies, 16 cadet vacancies and 60 civilian vacancies as of June.
Coupled with a surge in violent crime as residents continue to grapple with the impacts of the pandemic, our officers – and our infrastructure – have reached a breaking point that can no longer be ignored. And the communities we serve are suffering as a result.
While BCoPD offers competitive gross salaries, the benefits we can provide pale in comparison to comparable jurisdictions. Not only do our officers receive smaller pensions and fewer retirement options than their peers, but they are also asked to work with outdated and failing equipment that is unsuitable for policing today. For example, Baltimore County officers are not equipped with department-issued laptops, nor are they assigned radios, cell phones or cars – many of which are standard issued equipment in other agencies.
If we are to stop the hemorrhaging of talent to other departments, we must have the resources to provide affordable, competitive health care and retirement options and to offer equipment and other benefits that are in line with similarly sized departments.
Deficient Training Facilities
BCoPD does not have a comprehensive training facility. Instead, the department uses limited and inadequate space at the CCBC Dundalk Campus, where they are at the mercy of campus schedules for the use of certain areas. We use a volunteer fire department for classroom space and run tactical exercises and scenarios at flea markets, restaurants and movie theaters. There is no driver training track for emergency vehicle operations, leaving driver training to be conducted where and when we can borrow available track time at proximate non-department facilities.
The Baltimore County Firearms Training Range is fifty-five years old and has outlived its usefulness. For example, the outdoor range cannot be used at this time because of high lead levels and the indoor range has had problems with ventilation and high lead levels for years, often making it unsafe for use. Rifle qualifications have been moved off-site to a borrowed range facility because our current range cannot accommodate today’s necessary qualifications. Inadequate attempts over the years to make temporary fixes have provided little relief.
Since the County shut down the department’s K9 training facility 15 years ago after several dogs died, we have not been provided the resources to construct a new K9 training facility. Today, our K9 and tactical units work out of dilapidated government buildings and K9 officers are not provided take-home vehicles to transport their partners or staffed kennels on-site to properly and safely house our four-legged partners, when necessary, which is standard in surrounding jurisdictions.
To accomplish both the level of training necessary to fully vet and prepare recruits and to overcome the competitive disadvantage we find ourselves at with other proximate departments under consideration by recruits, we must have a dedicated public safety training facility and Police Academy that includes a driver training track for police and fire, a professional shooting range, proper classroom settings, a K9 facility and buildings that allow for recreation of the real-life scenarios that officers encounter daily.
Aging Precincts and Equipment
Several of Baltimore County’s precincts are not modernly equipped to meet today’s policing needs and requirements. Precincts 1 (1962), 7 (1969) and 11 (1973) are all dilapidated and in disrepair – and lack the proper infrastructure and equipment that modern precincts require to deliver excellent police services to our citizens and attract high-quality officer candidates. For example, Precinct 1 is no longer suitable to hold prisoners because it is considered too much of an escape risk due to old and failing infrastructure.
While County Executive Olszewski has appropriated funding for a new Precinct 1, the amount is incommensurate with what is required to build a proper modern facility today – and development has been stalled for more than a year. It is important that we begin immediately to assess, understand and develop plans to modernize our infrastructure across the county so that we can meet the needs of today’s modern police agency.
Reform, Re-imagine and Reinvest
Reform and reinvestment are long overdue here. In these extremely difficult times, for both residents and officers alike, we must move past politics and rhetoric to find solutions that allow us to recruit, train and retain the best officers in the country to protect what we believe are the best communities in the country – here in the place we call home: Baltimore County.
While acknowledging the necessity of wholesale improvements to the systems and processes that can facilitate more just, fair and informed policing in departments across the country, we must also do more and do better – now – to ensure the good and proud officers of the Baltimore County Police Department can carry out their sworn duties with the highest level of training and professionalism on behalf of the people they serve. As it stands now, without the resources needed to bring our department up-to-par with nearby jurisdictions, we will continue to lose qualified candidates and existing officers to other more modern and better-equipped agencies – and our communities will continue to bear the brunt of understaffed and undervalued precincts.
FOP Lodge #4