A Baltimore Police Department officer stands on a street corner during a foot patrol in this March 2016 photo. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Acting Baltimore police commissioner Gary Tuggle said Wednesday that he is bolstering the department’s patrol ranks by almost 20 percent in an effort get more officers on the streets, helping to suppress crime and curb soaring overtime spending.

The move involved assigning 115 officers from other units to patrol assignments at the department’s nine districts.

“With patrol being a priority, with our crime fight being a priority, we see the need to move these personnel,” Tuggle said at a news conference alongside Mayor Catherine Pugh (D).

Front-line patrol officers are regularly referred to as the “backbone” of the police department, but commanders have struggled to fill shifts, forcing them to draft officers into overtime work. That costs money and leaves officers exhausted.

The changes come as the City Council announced plans to more carefully scrutinize the department’s overtime spending as violence has rebounded in Baltimore.

Since the beginning of July, 15 people have been killed on the city’s streets, and a 7-year-old girl was left fighting for her life after being shot while sitting in a car last week.

“To shoot at a car a child is in is unconscionable,” Pugh said.

Overall for the year, homicides are down by about a quarter from 2017’s historic levels, and shootings in which the victim survived are also down 8 percent.

City Council member Brandon Scott, the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the police department can achieve only so much by moving officers from one job to another without making structural changes that free up police to build relationships in the communities they patrol.

Right now, Scott said, patrol officers are merely “call takers they just go from call to call to call.”

“Reassigning folks, along with changing the structure with how calls and nonemergency calls are handled, can lead to a better use of patrol officers,” Scott said. “Adding people is one step in the right direction.”

Officials say the patrol schedule, which involves officers working four 10-hour days a week, needs 1,200 or so officers to work effectively. Before the new assignments, 766 officers were assigned to patrol, and just 614 of them were available to be deployed because of suspensions, illnesses, vacations and military service.

Almost half of the officers are being sent to the Northeastern District, where shootings are up since last year, and the Central District, which has had an increase in homicides.

The reassignments brings the total number of officers assigned to patrol to 881.

Police department rosters for May showed that, on some days, more than 40 percent of patrol officers were working overtime shifts.

That level of overtime means officers are regularly working 15- or 16-hour days, which officials say puts both them and the public at risk.

Tuggle said shifting the 115 officers would reduce the average number of officers by which each shift is short from 18 to four. All of the new officers are expected to be in place by Sunday.

“It’s not a shell game,” Tuggle said. “These are bodies that will hit the streets.”

In the budget year that ended June 30, the city spent more than $47 million on overtime for police officers, far more than the $16 million budgeted. Officials have already approved the use of $21 million in extra tax revenue to make up part of the gap.

The city is auditing the police overtime after the federal investigation into the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force found officers regularly claiming overtime pay for hours they had not worked.

Scott has long been calling for more crime reports to be taken online or over the phone, which could free up officers to carry out other tasks.

Pugh said she expects the department could reach the full patrol staffing level in two or three years through revitalized recruitment efforts.

The officers are being reassigned from District Detective Units — which are being dissolved and their responsibilities given to patrol officers — and the “10th District” roving force created by Tuggle’s predecessor, Darryl De Sousa.

“There’s an opportunity cost associated with these moves, obviously,” Tuggle said.

Scott said reassigning officers from the 10th District made sense.

“The 10th District was meant to be a bolstering unit to patrol districts, and when patrol districts are not at the level they need to be, you can’t have a bolstering unit,” he said.

— Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Sun’s Luke Broadwater contributed to this report.