Using slots money that must be spent within one mile of the Pimlico Race Track, Baltimore officials have awarded a $50,000 SUV for the Shomrim neighborhood watch group to respond to reports of crimes.
Mayor Catherine Pugh and City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer presented the Chevy Tahoe to the Orthodox Jewish community watch group at its anniversary dinner last week, according to an account in the publication Baltimore Jewish Life.
The Tahoe was called a “command center” and adorned with law enforcement-style decals.
The award of the SUV sparked outcry from some online, who saw the appropriation as an inappropriate use of slots funds.
Christopher Ervin, an advocate for criminal justice reform, questioned the expenditure.
“How do you give a private entity a vehicle that so closely resembles a police vehicle?” Ervin asked. “Why doesn’t Safe Streets get the same thing? Why doesn’t the Nation of Islam get the same thing?”
The budget for Pimlico Community Development Authority, the entity tasked with deciding where slots money will go in the greater Park Heights area, makes no mention of the vehicle.
It does say a public safety vehicle will be provided to Hatzalah, an area organization that provides emergency medical services. But the budget states that the $240,000 vehicle will be an ambulance.
The budget also states $100,000 will go to various public safety initiatives, but does not specifically mention the SUV. A letter from the authority to Pugh asked that money come from that line item for a Shomrim vehicle.
Shomrim did not respond last week to a request for comment.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Pugh, who has final say over distribution of the funds, said the money came from the Pimlico Community Development Authority.
“This is what this part of the city wanted,” Pugh said. “They made their decision. Each group that’s involved in the slots allocations has a responsibility to decide what they want for their particular area. Some people want lots cleaned. Some people want more services in the recreation centers. This is what they wanted.”
Shomrim and other groups in the community have received slots money for years.
Schleifer said plans for Shomrim to get an SUV predate him and Pugh.
“Since year one, the local safety groups have been getting some of the funds,” he said. “There was a meeting with the planning department that was about what are the priorities of the community. Overwhelmingly, people wanted more funding for public safety organizations.”
Schleifer, who said he endorsed the expenditure, said any funding that goes to Shomrim is money well spent.
“I see lives being saved every day,” he said. “They’re second to none. They’re providing resources that government is supposed to be providing.”
Shomrim has been in the news several times over the years.
In July, Baltimore police credited the community watch group with helping to arrest a 16-year-old charged with the armed carjacking of a 64-year-old man in Northwest Baltimore.
In 2012, a Shomrim neighborhood watchman was sentenced to three years' probation for beating a black teenager. A year later, a Baltimore circuit judge struck the conviction, imposed probation before judgment and cut in half the term of probation.