Police say New Year's Eve celebration 'very, very safe'
By By Justin George and The Baltimore Sun
Dec 30, 2012 at 5:17 PM
When celebrants turn their eyes to the sky to watch fireworks burst over the Inner Harbor at the stroke of midnight Monday, a host of cameras will be looking down at them.
About 100 CitiWatch cameras around downtown will be sending live feeds back to Baltimore police, who will be searching for trouble. They have installed additional monitors just for New Year's Eve to make sure they can scan every camera angle.
A Baltimore Police Foxtrot helicopter will be streaming video directly into police command posts. Mounted officers on horseback will be scouring the crowd, able to summon K-9 or SWAT teams in an instant.
Police said the efforts are aimed at making Baltimoreans and out-of-town visitors feel safe during the city's annual New Year's Eve Spectacular, a tradition for more than 30 years that draws between 75,000 and 150,000 people to the Inner Harbor.
"The big message will be it's going to be a very, very safe experience," police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. "We encourage people to come downtown to have a great time."
Police hope New Year's Eve will continue the city's streak of safe events since violent incidents marred city celebrations in 2011 and early 2012.
During that period, the city fielded several reports of youths roaming downtown, attacking people. A visitor from Alabama was fatally stabbed at Pier Six after the annual fireworks display on July 4, 2011, while a 4-year-old was wounded by a bullet police said was shot into the air.
Since that time, police shifted tactics and subsequent city events such as Sailabration, the Grand Prix of Baltimore and this year's Fourth of July have been relatively trouble free.
"If you look at the events in the last year," said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, "we've had several successful events, and from a crime perspective, uneventful events."
The newer tactics, which include the creation of a fenced-in event perimeter, will come into play again on Tuesday. The city plans to use bike racks as makeshift fencing to ring the heart of the Inner Harbor and restrict access to manageable points.
Police also will deploy hundreds of officers into the Inner Harbor and other downtown spots and call on the Maryland State Police, the Maryland Transportation Authority and other agencies to help with DUI and traffic enforcement. No police leave or vacations are allowed on New Year's Eve to ensure that all districts are normally staffed while extra officers are diverted into the Harbor area.
"People can expect to see lots of police," Guglielmi said. "What they're not going to see is the plain clothes officers within the perimeter."
The creation of a fenced perimeter in addition to better lighting, a traffic management plan and increased access to public transportation are some of the improvements police and the city have made over the last few years for holiday events.
Police also can more nimbly shift officers to trouble spots thanks to "pocket cops," or BlackBerry phones that have been retrofitted with police software. The devices, carried by many officers, will give commanders a real-time look at where resources are needed, Guglielmi said.
"One thing that the police department has done in a significant way in the past half year was increasing foot patrol in downtown," Fowler added. "That's been significant in just keeping the levels of crime down to a very low degree."
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts also has ordered all command staff to get trained or recertified under police incident command system methods, which were created by FEMA to help police and fire departments manage large-scale events.
Business owners say they have taken note of the security improvements.
"Years ago things were a bit rough, but a lot of things have changed in the last year and a half or so in the Harbor and you see a lot more families coming over," said Peters Kokalari, general manager of the Celtic bar Tir Na Nog.