On Thursday, April 17, 2014, a public safety forum was held for the Southern District of Baltimore City at the National Federation of the Blind in Riverside. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, Major Ian Dombroski, Fire Chief Niles Ford, and many police officers from the Southern District were on hand to address the safety concerns from residents of South Baltimore neighborhoods.
As the night got started, Commissioner Batts announced that Ian Dombroski was promoted from acting major to major, calling Dombroski “one of my superstars.”
In her opening statements, Mayor Rawlings-Blake said that the Southern District Police and Community Relations Council (SDPCRC) have a relationships with the police and community that makes other districts jealous. She told the crowd that they were going to continue to focus on violent, repeat offenders, and that the Baltimore City Police Department (BCPD) will not be going back to the days of mass arrests. She was also excited about the soon-to-be implemented Ceasefire, a community approach to reforming violent criminals.
In Commissioner Batts’ opening statements, he told the crowd that the department would focus on three Cs: crime, community and credibility. Though preventing homicides and rapes are is of utmost importance, dropping all crime, including quality of life crime, is a priority of his administration. He said that he is also looking to get more officers walking the streets and on bicycles as opposed to sitting in patrol cars.
Batts also told the crowd that crime was down in every category in the Southern District, with a significant drop in shootings, and that they are working hard to continue to make improvements.
The forum was opened up to attendees and the following topics were covered:
Struggles in Hollins Market
The struggles with the drug treatment facilities in Hollins Market and their effects on surrounding neighborhoods, such as Union Square, Franklin Square and Pigtown, were certainly the most discussed topic of the night. This was brought up on a handful of occasions by frustrated residents in the audience. 1001 and 1101 W. Pratt St. are the homes of University of Maryland’s Methadone Treatment Program and Baltimore Behavioral Health, which treat more than 1,000 mental health and drug treatment patients, many of whom receive methadone. When the University of Maryland facility relocated to this location in 2012, it became the subject of protests by residents of the surrounding communities.
Many described the area as an “open air drug market” at all hours of the day, and described the constant resale of methadone and prescription pills. It was also mentioned that cars are seen coming to the community to purchase drugs from all over the region. Frustration was also high regarding a homicide that took place right outside of the Hollins Market.
Commissioner Batts and Major Dombroski told the crowd that they were well aware of the problems, and were already planning on increasing the number of patrols and specialists for the area starting this week. They told the crowd they were making great progress on several cases and are looking for out-of-the-box solutions to calm an area that has long struggled with drug problems.
When asked about the possibility of removing the drug treatment facilities, Mayor Rawlings-Blake told the crowd that they are run by the state and that the city would have to continue to work with the state to find solutions.
As Horseshoe Baltimore (Caesars Entertainment) plans to open Baltimore’s first casino on Russell St. in South Baltimore, the Police Department provided updates on policing strategies for the new facility. Lt. Col. Melissa Hyatt has spearheaded the preparations for the opening of the facility and has been making visits to Cincinnati and Arundel Mills to learn more about the security around their casinos. Lt. Col. Hyatt began working with Caesars management immediately after plans were announced and has been having weekly meetings with Caesars, Emergency Management, and the Fire Department.
Enhanced public resources will be added to not only to the area surrounding Horseshoe, but also to the surrounding communities. “We’ll be fully prepared for the opening,” said Lt. Col. Hyatt.
Erased City/County Lines
With several Southern District communities bordering other jurisdictions, such as Brooklyn and Curtis Bay to Anne Arundel County and Lakeland to Baltimore County, Commissioner Batts described a strengthened relationship between all the jurisdictions in the Baltimore area. “We’ve erased the lines between Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County,” said Commissioner Batts in relation to police pursuits and pursuing criminals. “The crooks don’t know where the border lines are.”
Troubles with Bars
Major Ian Dombroski gave the crowd updates on the department’s patrol strategy around the Federal Hill bars on Friday and Saturday nights. They have started a citation initiative for disorderly people, which has resulted in hundreds of tickets, and have brought in many new officers who do not have relationships with any of the bar owners. As a result, they have seen complaints for the area decrease significantly.
Though the forum was intended to focus on public safety, a speaker from Mt. Winans made a case for the dangers of potholes. Mayor Rawlings-Blake described last season as a “relentless and horrible winter that she wishes would just end,” and told the crowd that potholes will be much less frequent and easier to repair when the weather gets consistently warmer.
Donation to the Southern District Explorers
Many people in the area have been working hard to fundraise for the Baltimore Police Department Southern District Explorer Post trip to the National Law Enforcement Exploring Conference in Bloomington, Indiana this summer. The Explorers program partners youth with police officers who serve as mentors, teaching them good citizenship, community involvement, and leadership skills.
At the end of the Public Safety Forum, Officer Kevin “Butterbean” Vaught and the Explorers were presented a check for $4,750 from the Federal Hill Hospitality Association (FHHA), an association of Federal Hill bars and restaurants, for their trip.
With the large donation, the Explorers have now reached their fundraising goal of $7,000. “We’re going to Indiana!” said Officer Butterbean.