Eager to avoid a repeat of the violence last St. Patrick's Day, when youths fought in downtown streets and a tourist was beaten unconscious, Baltimore police are stepping up patrols in nightlife centers starting this weekend.
Commanders will add extra patrols at the Inner Harbor and in Fells Point, Canton and Federal Hill in coming weeks as bars and restaurants start celebrations early. Police will also send plainclothes officers to those areas in advance of March 17, a Sunday.
"Everybody's getting excited about the holiday, and so are the police," Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. "We're starting as early as [Friday], just to spread the word that we're not going to tolerate individuals that act irresponsible, period."
Last year, when St. Patrick's Day fell on a Saturday, authorities struggled to handle hundreds of young people who converged on downtown and the Inner Harbor. A tourist from Northern Virginia was beaten, robbed and stripped of his clothing in front of the east building of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse while onlookers recorded the scene with their cellphones.
Police dispatch logs revealed that hundreds of teenagers were fighting from street to street downtown, sometimes with knives. Weary dispatchers became so overwhelmed trying to sort through the calls that one snapped at a police officer trying to get a check on a driver's license for a routine traffic stop.
The mayhem in areas that draw tourists was particularly embarrassing for the city as it tries to shed a violent reputation and bring more visitors. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake described the events as "a black eye for the city."
Police say officers were effective in controlling a sometimes-chaotic scene downtown. But few were expecting so many teens to converge, and the department had a smaller presence there than in other parts of the city where commanders expected raucous crowds.
After the St. Patrick's Day violence, the city marked several events — including the War of 1812 bicentennial and the Grand Prix of Baltimore — that went off without any serious incidents. But the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl victory parade again tested the Police Department's ability to control crowds.
The event drew an estimated 200,000 people downtown. A 15-year-old boy was killed amid a triple stabbing shortly after the parade, a homicide that remains unsolved. An 11-year-old boy and his mother were trampled at M&T Bank Stadium. The boy suffered a concussion, an injury to his eye and a large cut on his face.
This year's St. Patrick's Day preparations also come as the department struggles to tamp down violence in general. The city's homicide rate so far this year is 40 percent greater than at the same point last year. Six men were killed in the city last weekend alone.
City Councilman Brandon Scott said he is concerned about "violence and increased violence as a whole, not just on St. Patrick's Day."
"It allows the naysayers to go and say, 'This is what Baltimore is,' even though we know how much we've accomplished," said Scott, who is vice chairman of the council's public safety committee.
Police also said they will be on the lookout for alcohol-related crimes around St. Patrick's Day. The department plans DUI checkpoints and sought to remind revelers that open containers of alcohol are illegal.
Last year, drunken revelers added to the problem of the teenagers downtown. Canton's O'Donnell Square was full of people drinking in the open, while some party-goers urinated on rowhouse steps in Federal Hill.
"There will always be more nights than not that are safe and fun for people," said Kirby Fowler, head of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. "There will be times when someone will act out. We hope to keep that to a minimum."
Fowler called the extent of the violence on St. Patrick's Day last year "rare" and pointed to other recent events that have gone on without problems as proof.
"I don't think anything went wrong from a police perspective," Fowler said of last year's events. "I think there may have been a few stars aligning in an unusual way."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun