www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-county/bs-md-co-north-point-precinct-move-20130525,0,6462292.story

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Police union, Dundalk residents criticize proposed precinct move

Baltimore County plan to sell three properties that would include station, relocate to elementary school

By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

4:45 PM EDT, May 25, 2013

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The Baltimore County police union and some Dundalk residents are protesting a plan to move the North Point Police Precinct from a centrally located building to an outlying post in the northern part of the district on Eastern Boulevard.

Critics say the change could mean officers will take longer to respond to emergencies and keep some away from their posts in the southeastern part of the county, though the police chief said the new location offers better access to major roads.

The issue is playing out amid a larger debate over the county's plan to sell the North Point Government Center on Merritt Boulevard and Holabird Avenue, which is now home to the precinct. The center is one of three taxpayer-owned properties that the county has proposed to sell to raise money for schools.

The police station would move into what is now Eastwood Magnet Elementary School on Eastern Boulevard, and students there would be sent to neighboring schools. The site is on the northern end of Precinct 12, which is roughly bounded by the Back River, the Patapsco River and the Baltimore City line.

Cole B. Weston, president of Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, said the proposed location is far from many communities in the southern part of the district, meaning that when officers must return to the precinct building, their posts will be unattended for longer periods of time.

"It's clearly at the top border," he said. "It's a hike for people who have to go to Turner Station. If you have a car that works a post down there, when they leave that post, they've left it. It will be 15-plus minutes to get back to the precinct."

Chief James W. Johnson defended the move after a recent budget hearing for his department before the County Council.

"I want to point out that officers are assigned to a post," he said, adding that they are expected to spend the majority of time out in the neighborhood and not in the precinct station.

The school site offers some benefits, such as easy access to the main thoroughfare of Eastern Boulevard and the expressways that serve the southern end of the precinct, he said.

Weston also raised concerns about renovating the school site into a police station, which will have to be equipped with a cell block and a secure location to unload people being taken into police custody.

Several community leaders have also questioned the accessibility of location.

Carl Persiani, a member of Dundalk United, which formed to fight the county's plan to sell the government center, questioned the practicality of the county's plan.

"Why would you want to take a station that was located in the center of the community and move it to the far north side of the community? It doesn't make any logical sense whatsoever," he said. "We are in the southernmost end of the community. We are afraid of crime rates going up because of response times."

Other residents expressed concern at having the precinct relocated into the middle of a residential community. The existing precinct is surrounded by recreation fields and is on Merritt Boulevard, which is mostly commercial businesses.

Dundalk residents been vocal about the county's plan sell the community center space and surrounding recreation fields and have staged several protests.

The county's proposal would also include two other properties, a former police substation building in Randallstown and a fire station in Towson.

The county received bids for the three properties in April, including two offers for the North Point Government Center. Officials said the sales will generate revenue for county schools. A county committee is now evaluating the bids.

The county school board approved the closure of Eastwood in March. The school is set to close at the end of the school year.

Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this article.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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