Prince George’s County is losing police officers to retirements faster than they can be replaced, and the gap could continue to widen if elected officials don’t fund more academy classes.
That was part of the message Prince George’s Police Chief Mark A. Magaw delivered Thursday when he requested money for a second class of police cadets in 2016. The class of 50 officers would help shore up a force that expects to have about 400 officers eligible to retire by January 2017, Magaw told County Council members.
“What keeps me up at night is I’ve got one class [for 2016], and that’s not enough to protect this county,” the chief said.
The department is staffed by about 1,720 officers but should be at 2,200, Magaw said.
The second class, which would cost at least $1.2 million, would only combat attrition, Magaw said. It wouldn’t necessarily be enough to help the department meet the increased public safety demands that new development, including the $925 million MGM National Harbor casino, will bring.
Under the current budget, the department has a class scheduled to start in April and graduate in 2017. On Thursday, Magaw requested that the April class be moved up to January and a second class be added in June.
Magaw requested the class funding from the council’s Committee on Public Safety and Fiscal Management after being asked earlier this year to trim $9 million from his budget.
Several residents who attended the meeting said they worried about overworked officers and a police force spread too thin. They also said they feel stuck in the middle of the ongoing budget battle between County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and the council.
“We need those classes,” said Robert Smith, who has lived in the county for more than 25 years. “The County Council and the county executive need to work it out.”
Baker’s budget for fiscal 2017 proposed a double-digit tax increase to generate funding for the county school system, as well as layoffs and furloughs for county workers to offset a separate shortfall in operating revenue. The council, however, rejected Baker’s plan, approving a smaller tax increase and eliminating the proposed layoffs and furloughs. The council also proposed that each county agency cut 2 percent of its budget, to be set aside in a contingency fund.
Council members expressed general support for Magaw’s request.
Todd M. Turner (D-Bowie) said that the council’s budget was aimed at managing some of the county’s financial concerns but that money would be available should Magaw need it.
“Our intent was not to simply cut and not give it back to you,” Turner said. “If there are situations that are occurring . . . we have the opportunity for the supplemental budget to restore things.”
The department and county residents have already felt the impact of budget cuts.
This year, county officials announced reductions that have forced the police department to delay opening a long-awaited station in the Fort Washington area. The District VII station won’t open until mid-December and be fully operational until late January.
Magaw also said that some of the county’s recent homicides — excluding those tied to domestic violence — could have been prevented if not for some of the operational cuts he has had to make.
“Anytime a budget gets cut by $9 million, no matter who cuts it, it hits at operations,” he said.
Police officials on Thursday also updated council members on the department’s body camera pilot program, which is expected to begin in March.
The county plans to order 50 cameras to launch the pilot. The department has been partnering with sociologists from the University of Maryland to design the pilot and study the program once it is complete.
The pilot, which is costing about $150,000, is slated to run for six months.
“The transparency and accountability of these systems is priceless from my perspective,” Magaw said. “It’s something well worth the effort to find a way to get it done.”