Baltimore's members of the House of Delegates unanimously endorsed a bill Friday that would require the city police department to conduct a long-sought review of its district boundaries and repeat the process every 10 years, after the Census.
The districts are one of the basic building blocks of policing in the city, but the boundaries haven't been changed in decades — supporters of the bill point to 1959 as being the last major shift.
If the General Assembly passes the bill, the first review of the district boundaries would be expected to begin in 2022, after the next Census is completed.
The proposed law would require police commanders to look at population data and crime statistics and response times to craft new boundaries. The mayor and City Council would be given the power to review the lines.
The endorsement of the delegation is vital — and boosts the bill's chance of becoming law — because the legislature often defers to local lawmakers on measures that only affect one part of the state.
In the decades since the district lines were last altered, Baltimore's population and criminal landscape have shifted dramatically.
Politicians representing the 17 square-mile Northeastern District, which stretches from Clifton Park to the Baltimore County line and is home to some 130,000 people, have long felt shortchanged by the current arrangements.
Councilman Brandon Scott told lawmakers in a hearing on the bill Thursday that the district typically has 20 officers for each shift, while the far smaller Eastern District — 41,000 people spread across about 4 square miles — has 15 or 16.
"That's unacceptable," he said.
The police department supports the bill. But officials have downplayed its impact, saying the factors it would require them to consider are already used by the department.
"This puts it in line with how we actually allocate officers already," said James Gillis, a lobbyist for the police department.
And while the districts play a role in how some parts of the department are organized, many units such as homicide have responsibilities that span the entire city.
A 2012 outline for improving the department drafted by the police officers' union also called for reconsidering the boundary lines.
Gene Ryan, president of the union, told lawmakers Friday that the lodge had no official position on the bill.
Asked about the Northeastern district, he responded: "It's entirely too big, I can say that."