Baltimore City school police officers earned $1.8M in overtime, additional pay while providing security for other agencies in pandemic year

Published on: August 31, 2022 5:36 PM EDT

The exterior of M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, in South Baltimore.

Baltimore City school police officers made a total of about $1.8 million in overtime and additional pay during a pandemic school year by providing after-hours security for other city and state agencies, according to city school system data.

About a quarter of the school police force — 22 officers — each earned more than $100,000 in hourly pay and overtime combined from October 2020-October 2021 by staffing Orioles and Ravens games, providing security at city pools during the summer, and working after-school events, such as sports games.

The city’s Department of Recreation and Parks and the Maryland Stadium Authority each reimbursed the school system for the overtime that the school police officers worked, according to Akil Hamm, the school system’s police chief. A similar arrangement exists for city police officers who work overtime for city agencies.

In a statement, the school system said city school police work overtime “in the form of support for other governmental entities. Examples include supporting Baltimore Police Department investigations, city COVID-19 testing sites, and professional sporting events. Overtime costs are recovered through reimbursements from those governmental entities.”

One school police corporal who earned $80,000 in annual pay also received $65,000 in overtime, records show. Another officer earned $70,000 in annual pay and $67,000 in overtime. The officer who earned the most overtime was Lawrence Smith, who also serves as the head football coach at Dunbar High School. He was the only officer to more than double his pay.

Smith earned $94,000 in overtime in addition to his annual salary of $62,000. An FBI visit to Baltimore school headquarters on Aug. 17 was part of an investigation into Smith. The investigation relates to possible timecard irregularities and overtime fraud, the sources said.

Smith’s attorney, Chaz Ball, said Aug. 24 that he was still learning about the investigation into his client and was not yet prepared to comment.

Unlike other school systems whose school resource officers are county police department officers, the city school system has its own police force of about 90 officers, according to the database.

“About 90 percent of the overtime the officers work is reimbursed” through entities such as the recreation and parks department and the stadium authority, Hamm said last week. “They reimburse dollar for dollar. So the school system is not losing any money.”

He said school police also earn overtime when they work after school hours to provide security for games or handle the arrest of a student that might come at the end of a day.

Days later, Baltimore City school system officials said Wednesday that Hamm had overstated the percentage of overtime work reimbursed by other entities. Sherry Christian, a school system spokeswoman, said at least 49 percent of overtime costs was reimbursed by another entity during the 2021-22 school year, down from at least 64 percent the previous year.

The recreation and parks department said in a recent statement that it uses school police “for general security at Baltimore City pools during pool season, at youth football games and at our Shake and Bake Family Fun Center typically. We pay the (police) department a negotiated rate based on the provided services. This standard rate has been agreed on between our agency and the school system.” The recreation and parks department said that the compensation is not managed by the agency, and it cannot comment on why the officers are paid overtime — typically time and a half — rather than straight pay for moonlighting.

The stadium authority said it uses the school police officers to supplement Baltimore Police Department officers for security at Camden Yards. The officers are scheduled through the Baltimore Police Department.

Clyde Boatwright, president of the union that represents school police officers in Baltimore and across Maryland, said they fill the gap created by a shortage of city police officers. Without the school police officers, law enforcement would be unable to fully staff major sporting events and recreation facilities.

Boatwright said these officers have built close relationships with the community because of their time in the schools.

“This is the best form of community policing around,” he said. “You should see the relationship that our officers have at the Shake & Bake.”

The union contract allows for the officers to collect overtime for extra work hours, he added.

School system spokesman Andre Riley said the district has agreements with the recreation and parks department and the stadium authority to use school police officers in other duties.

Baltimore City Council member Zeke Cohen said the arrangement deserves scrutiny, particularly if the city, through recreation and parks, is paying for the overtime. “I think oversight when it comes to overtime is important given the history in our city of blank checks going out,” Cohen said. “I don’t begrudge anyone for working more hours and filling a market, but it does seem sort of an odd arrangement and I do think we need to make sure there is equity among all of our employees in city schools … and everyone has an opportunity to earn a decent salary, especially in this moment where being involved in schools is incredibly challenging.”

About 536 teachers of the city’s 5,000 teachers earn more than $100,000.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include updated figures from Baltimore City Public Schools on the percentage of overtime worked by school police officers that was reimbursed by other entities.

Reporters Tim Prudente and Nick Thieme contributed to this article.