Baltimore police ordered every officer to work July 4 and will rely heavily on reinforcements from state law enforcement agencies, an effort intended to keep Inner Harbor visitors safe while maintaining a strong presence in areas besieged by recent violence.
The city has traditionally packed downtown with officers for Independence Day celebrations like the one planned for Thursday. But this year police are also stepping up their presence in neighborhoods across the city that have been rocked by more than 40 shootings and 16 homicides since June 21.
"The Inner Harbor is going to be safe on the Fourth of July," Lt. Col. Darryl DeSousa declared at a news conference
DeSousa promised an "overflood" of officers downtown and said that all police districts would be at full strength, because the department has canceled leave for the holiday.
A visible army of city and state police, city sheriff's deputies and Maryland Transportation Authority Police officers will be posted downtown as about 200,000 people fill the Inner Harbor at dusk to watch fireworks burst over the water.
Revelers will see police on foot and on horseback, patrolling in cars and peering from helicopters. Undercover officers will mix with the throngs while investigators monitor multiple angles from overhead CitiWatch cameras and "surveillance" stages.
The Inner Harbor celebration runs from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. The fireworks display is scheduled for 9:30 p.m.
While city police have been grappling with a persistent deficit of officers due to retirements, defections and suspensions, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has made it clear to Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts that he has her "full support," mayoral spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said.
O'Doherty said police would have technological resources needed "to target repeat violent offenders, gangs, and illegal guns while keeping our streets — including downtown — safe." He noted that the CitiWatch camera network, which the mayor has expanded, acts as a "force multiplier" that helps officers with more eyes on the street.
As the city seeks to balance the needs of well-off enclaves with those of troubled neighborhoods, community leaders said the holiday represents one of the biggest tactical challenges Batts has faced since being hired last fall.
"This may be the real first test of whether downtown and uptown Baltimore is covered as well as all areas," said former Baltimore NAACP president Dr. Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham Sr.
While police annually call upon other area law enforcement agencies for special events, they are relying even more on them to meet that challenge.
Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, which promotes business, residency and tourism, said he's been told Baltimore police can handle all the assignments.
"We've received assurances that their levels will be where they've been at in other years and that their focus will be on the thousands upon thousands of people and residents coming into downtown," he said.
City leaders believe the inter-agency cooperation and downtown enforcement strategies will prevent a repeat of past violence that has tarnished Baltimore celebrations.
After a tourist was fatally stabbed at Pier Six and a 4-year-old wounded by celebratory gunfire after 2011 Independence Day events, police created a perimeter of bike-rack fencing to corral Inner Harbor spectators for easier monitoring and crowd control.
Police will use the same fencing this year, which officials credit with helping to keep city celebrations relatively peaceful.
The string of quiet events ended when violence marred the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl victory parade this year. A few hours after the Feb. 5 celebration ended and as parade-goers continued to mill around downtown, a large fight at West Fayette and North Howard streets ended with 15-year-old De'ontae Smith fatally stabbed and two other teens injured. The fight occurred three blocks from the parade route.
DeSousa acknowledged Wednesday that police "caught violence on the outskirts" that day and plan to expand their tactical footprint to stretch along the downtown waterfront north to Fayette and out to Fells Point.
On the city's east and west sides, police will continue doubling and even tripling the number of officers on patrol to suppress the recent wave of shootings.