Northwest Baltimore residents are split along neighborhood lines in a debate over whether to move the district’s police station to the soon-to-be-vacant site of the city’s police academy.
Neighbors, worried about public safety as the police academy relocates in December, are advocating for the police station to move into the vacant building. But some residents living closer to the station’s current location are concerned the plan will take law enforcement resources further from areas of high crime.
City leaders approved a plan in September to relocate the police academy to the University of Baltimore campus — a decision made with the department’s federal consent decree in mind. The current police academy building at 3500 W. Northern Parkway in the Glen neighborhood is in bad condition, officials say, and its classrooms are not big enough to fit the police department’s needs.
However, some neighbors are worried over what will become of the Northern Parkway site. They have felt safer knowing they live close to a law enforcement presence and enjoyed seeing Baltimore Police trainees jogging around the area.
Residents from surrounding communities packed into a community meeting in October to share those sentiments and hear from city officials, including Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, about future plans for the building. Some specifically said they wanted to see the Northwestern District police station moved to the former academy from its location on Reisterstown Road in the Woodmere neighborhood about a mile southeast.
But that suggestion is causing a rift among Northwest Baltimore residents, some of whom live close to the police station’s current location and think moving it is a bad idea.
Sean Stinnett, president of the Northwestern District Community Relations Council, is among several community leaders circulating a petition to keep the police station in place. The petition has garnered more than 150 signatures, Stinnett said, adding that he hopes to collect at least 500.
The West Arlington resident says moving the station a mile north would place it further from portions of the district that tend to struggle the most with crime.
“Resources are being over-saturated in certain communities that are more gentrified than others," he said. “We fall to the wayside in addressing violent crimes, because we don’t have enough resources in our areas.”
City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, who represents the Northwest communities and chairs the City Council’s public safety committee, objects to that claim and says police allocate resources in neighborhoods proportionate to the level of crime.
The Northwestern District began November with one of its most violent weeks in recent years, with 11 people shot in the Howard Park, Langston Hughes, Central Park Heights, Woodmere and West Arlington neighborhoods.
And the following week, there was a shooting across the street from the police academy as people were heading home from work, Schleifer said.
The councilman said he heard from plenty of residents expressing a desire to move the station, but only a handful asking that it remain in place.
The academy site is located on a high-visibility intersection with ample space for parking and recreation, making it ideal for a police station, he said.
“If you’re asking which site would function better as a police department, that’s clear as day," he said. “Certainly, those opportunities could not occur at its current location. But I would not propose to move anything anywhere until we have a plan of what comes next.”
If the station stays on Reisterstown Road, it will likely need major repairs. In a letter dated Oct. 2, Young asked Gov. Larry Hogan for state funds to cover a portion of the $24.5 million cost of updating or relocating each of the police department’s nine district stations. The request stated the Northwestern District Station is in need of a “complete renovation” estimated to cost $5 million.
Schleifer, along with state Sen. Jill P. Carter and Dels. Dalya Attar, Tony Bridges and Sandy Rosenberg, all Baltimore Democrats, later told Young in a joint letter that they were “gravely disturbed” to learn of the plan to renovate and advocated for moving the station to the academy site.
“What better site to invest in than the highly visible intersection of Northern Parkway and Park Heights Avenue, a gateway to Pimlico Race Course, where we hope to attract over a half a billion dollars of public and private investment,” the letter states. “Without an immediate commitment or a substantial plan on this nearby site, we would be sending the wrong message to potential investors.”
Major potential investors in Pimlico, home of the annual Preakness Stakes Triple Crown horse race, are “very concerned” that the intersection could be left vacant, Schleifer said.
Still, some community leaders say they’re flexible about what happens to the academy building — as long as it doesn’t sit vacant for long.
The Baltimore Jewish Council’s Board of Directors has previously lobbied for the Northwestern District station to be relocated to the current academy site, along with a recreation center adjacent to the existing athletic fields.
“It was just an idea raised to us to work to fill the city’s needs,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “The key is that site can’t become a vacant city-owned property.”
Stinnett fears a final decision will be made about the city-owned properties without community input. He hoped the petition would serve as a proactive tool for residents who oppose the move.
Schleifer said the community’s opinion will be a vital part of any decision. He recalled feeling blindsided when he learned the academy would eventually move to the University of Baltimore.
“The city should never move something out of a location without proper community engagement and a plan for what comes next,” he said. “And that applies everywhere.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.