BALTIMORE (WBF) - FOX45 is getting a better understanding of how short-staffed the Baltimore Police Department is.
Leaders are switching things around, making staffing and scheduling changes this week, to meet the city's needs.
Despite being understaffed and losing 36 officers in 2018, leaders say there are now more officers on patrol compared to this time last year.
"We are understaffed across the board," said interim commissioner Gary Tuggle. "You can't hide that. It's evident. We are literally robbing Peter to pay Paul within the agency."
Baltimore's police department has 257 vacancies, discouraging numbers for a city that recorded more than 300 murders for the fourth year in a row.
"This department went so underinvested for so many years, we are now playing catch-up, and it's going to take us a while. It's not going to happen overnight," Tuggle said.
Despite the shortfall, he says new schedules are allowing the department to put more officers on the street.
As of Monday, officers' hours have shifted, and they are five days a week instead of four.
"There are more patrol officers fielded each day now," said Captain Derek Loeffler.
About 50 more officers were on patrol each day this week, after the schedules changed.
The number is even greater compared to last year.
On February 5, 2018, 243 officers were on patrol.
This Feb. 5, however, there were 451 officers on patrol.
"We're going to have to significantly increase our class sizes which we're looking to do," Tuggle said, adding that the department's main priority is staffing patrols and recruiting much-needed new officers.
"We are seeing a significant increase, about 81 applicants per week."
But the department is having trouble going through the applications.
"We can't even get to that until we can get the backgrounds and processing done."
Tuggle says four officers are assigned to conducting background checks.
They're overwhelmed, performing those for other city agencies.
On Thursday, he announced he's suspending all other background checks.
BPD will focus solely on the police department for at least the next six months to catch up with the backlog.
A spokesperson for the mayor's office sent FOX45 this statement Thursday night:
"It's understandable that the Police Department wants to have every available resource deployed on our City streets. At the same time, the Department of Human Resources currently works with a third-party investigative agency to complete background checks on City employees and is confident that there will not be a disruption in hiring. The DHR will be working with BPD to ensure that all of the more specialized background checks are appropriately handled."