More patrols set for nights
The nonprofit Downtown Partnership wants to pay city police to add more nightly foot patrols around the Inner Harbor under a proposal Baltimore officials are expected to approve today.
The agreement — which calls for three additional officers and a sergeant to receive overtime pay to be stationed downtown beginning at 6 p.m. daily — has sparked a debate over how police are deployed across the city and who should pay.
Gene-Michael Addis, general manager at the Lord Baltimore Hotel near the intersection of West Baltimore and South Charles streets, said city police are understaffed, leaving officers scrambling to respond to “hot-button issues” across Baltimore’s 92 square miles.
“Safety is as much a perception as it is a reality,” Addis said. “If you’re an out-oftowner or a resident downtown, seeing officers on foot, in their car or on a bicycle gives you an enhanced sense of security.”
The Downtown Partnership will spend up to $200,000 through the spring from a surcharge it collects on the 1,200 property owners in its 106-block area to pay for the additional police protection.
The agreement would take effect immediately, pending approval by the Board of Estimates.
Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chairman of the public safety committee, said the matter raises a decades-old question about the equity of how Police Department resources and staffing are allocated to different neighborhoods.
Police saturate certain low-income neighborhoods with typically higher crime rates, leaving middle-class ones without a fair share of resources, Scott said. A police district map drawn more than a generation
“Safety is as much a perception as it is a reality. If you’re an out-of-towner or a resident downtown, seeing officers on foot, in their car or on a bicycle gives you an enhanced sense of security.” Gene-Michael Addis, general manager of the Lord Baltimore Hotel
ago is partly to blame because it does not account for which neighborhoods are most densely populated today and which ones have the most calls for service, he said.
Scott said he is seeking partners in the General Assembly to push for changing the system for how the city’s roughly 2,300 officers are deployed. Such a change requires legislative action.
The councilman said he also wants to see philanthropic groups step forward to help neighborhoods without resources similar to downtown’s pay for more police coverage.
“We have to figure out how to empower other organizations to provide the support when necessary,” Scott said.
Other groups do buy additional police protection for both special events such as Ravens and Orioles games and regular coverage, including the Charles Village Community Benefits District.
Police spokesman T.J. Smith said similar arrangements are commonplace in policing. Some groups use third-party contractors that hire only off-duty police.
Smith said the agreement will not detract from any police obligations in the city, because any officers who take the shifts do so as secondary to their work duties.
“This is a routine and common sense thing,” he said in an email. “A group comes forward and wants to pay for extra coverage and we accommodate if we can. But it’s a win-win if we can increase public safety without incurring additional costs.”
The five-page agreement says that “the city has experienced an increase in crime with the boundaries of Eutaw Street, Gay Street, Lombard Street and Fayette Street” and the Police Department’s “current staffing levels and budget are not sufficient to deploy additional dedicated officers in a foot patrol capacity” in that area.
Three officers and a sergeant would be paid overtime rates of $45 and $50 an hour, respectively, to patrol downtown from 6 p.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
A review of city crime data downtown shows robberies have steadily increased to 225 so far this year, compared with 129 as of the same date in 2013.
Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, said the agreement is not the result of an increase in “violent crime” downtown. He acknowledged “the occasional stealing of cellphones and some incidents outside of night clubs, like people fighting.”
But, he said, the impetus behind the agreement is the addition of new apartment buildings and hotels downtown, such as the 10 Light apartments and the Delta Hotel by Marriott set to open soon near South Charles and Redwood streets.
“If we’re going to invite people into this space, we have to make sure we have a perception and reality of safety,” Fowler said. “It’s time for us to have more coverage.”
Fowler said the partnership’s guides patrol the area until 11 p.m. Rather than extending their hours, he said, “we thought it was more important to have a police presence.” The guides have safety training, but no arrest power, and they carry no weapons, he said.
If the initiative is a success, Fowler said, the partnership would look to the properties downtown to pay for it to continue beyond March or April.
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she wants to see the Police Department pay for at least a couple of hundred more officers to provide better coverage across the city. She supports the partnership’s agreement and those like it because it adds to police protection with overtime service without depriving any neighborhoods of patrols.
“Everyone should have this kind of protection,” said Clarke, adding that the city should find a way to pay for additional positions “so there are more police officers throughout the city of Baltimore.”
Doug Ward, the director of the Division of Public Safety Leadership at the Johns HopkinsSchool of Education, said allowing organizations to hire police for additional patrols is commonplace across the country. He said officials must be mindful that the Police Department does not deplete its regular-duty resources to collect payments for additional services.
“It’s a fine way to relieve the taxpayer of the burden,” Ward said.