The Baltimore City Council adopted a budget for the next fiscal year that cuts $22.4 million from the police department’s $550 million budget, including nearly $7 million from overtime spending.
The cuts come days after protestors gathered outside City Hall demanding that the Baltimore Police Department be defunded altogether. The cuts are less than 5% of the total police department’s 2021 budget, which is 1.2% lower than the department’s budget from the previous year.
“I am proud to lead a City Council that has taken a decisive first step towards responsibly reprioritizing Baltimore’s budget,” City Council President Brandon Scott said Monday evening. “This is just a first step, and we must recognize we did not get here overnight. In order to reduce our dependence on policing, we must continue the work we have started tonight over the next term.”
The council amended, then approved the $3 billion budget after Mayor Jack Young’s administration was forced to revamp a proposed budget in just a few weeks, after the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic caused Baltimore’s revenue to plummet.
The cuts were first voted upon at a city council budget committee hearing Monday morning. The full council then held two meetings Monday evening to finalize the cuts and amendments. When it comes to the city budget, the council can make cuts, but can’t shift money from one place to another; only the mayor can do that.
City Council President Brandon Scott and other council members have lobbied Mayor Young to shift money around in the budget.
The budget is now on Young’s desk. If he does not negotiate with the council on their suggested changes, the savings from the cuts will lead to a slight cut in the city’s property tax rate.
The budget will go into effect July 1; the mayor is expected to make a decision on the budget within the next few days.
“I rise to implore Mayor Young that he meets this moment, reimagines public safety and reinvest the cuts that we just made into programs that could actually promote a healthy, safe, thriving Baltimore,” Councilman Zeke Cohen said. “Despite many of us screaming from the rooftops, people in our city don't know that the city council cannot actually reallocate money from the budget. We can only cut. That should change.”
After Cohen’s comment, Council President Scott, who won the Democratic mayoral primary that virtually guarantees a win in deep-blue Baltimore’s general election, said the budgeting process will be different the next time around.
“In the future, we will be budgeting in a different way, in a more collaborative way, in a more transparent way that I think we’ll all be able to be proud of,” Scott said.
The BPD cuts came after a six hour hearing on the police budget last Friday, during which police commissioner Michael Harrison spoke.
“This department and this city face serious challenges,” Harrison said. “We have a path forward, and if we continue on that course, we will only improve. But we must have the resources available."
On Monday, an email Harrison sent to city hall staffers said the overtime cuts could inhibit the department’s ability to respond to police involved shootings and adequately manage administrative functions, as well as force the department to revise its carjacking response protocol.
The department “will also be unable to use overtime to process the backlog of administrative cases that require closure within a 90 day time period, which is a requirement of the consent decree,” the email said.
The council also voted to disband the police department’s mounted unit.
Harrison’s email said disbanding the mounted unit could lead to additional costs under a 2018 lease with a stable where the department keeps its horses.
“Those provisions, among other things, mandate written notice of one year prior to any cancellation and fees equal to the unamortized cost of the building, which in this case is approximately $1.5 million,” the email said.
The council had also proposed the department’s marine unit be cut entirely. In the end, after an amendment, the budget set aside $80,000 for the unit to phase out. The cuts to the unit means the city police and fire department’s marine services must work together going forward.
About $13 million of the police cuts came from “unallocated appropriations,” a category for funds the department anticipates receiving but has not yet received, such as grant money. The department can still access those funds; the cut means BPD will have to come before the council to receive approval on how those funds will be spent.