Since November, taxpayers have been footing the tab to police club-goers and college students in the downtown Market Place area, an unintended consequence of a plan to stop officers from moonlighting as security outside city businesses.
Bars and clubs that once hired uniformed city officers to work secondary employment outside the establishments have not been paying into a pool intended to fund an extra shift of patrol officers downtown, a plan meant to give police authorities more control over how officers are deployed.
After receiving inquiries from The Baltimore Sun, city officials and at least one key business owner said that there had been an apparent misunderstanding and that they are hopeful an agreement can be solidified. The city still wants the plan to work, but if other businesses don't come to the table as the weather warms and crowds pick up, officials might be forced rethink the idea.
"We're looking to get everyone back to the table and get things sorted out," said Sheryl Goldstein, director of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice.
Under Baltimore's previous rules, businesses could apply to the police commissioner for details of off-duty, uniformed officers outside their establishments. The department received the money from the businesses and selected the officers who worked the details.
But Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said last fall that he worried officers faced a conflict of interest when asked to police an establishment whose owner was paying them. He said there was the potential for "an enormous amount of corruptibility" and said owners were shifting to the city their responsibility to keep their businesses safe.
"Some of these locations have become enormously violent and a threat to public safety, and the refrain I hear from some of the club owners is, 'Well, your cops are working security. So if the patrons aren't safe, who's responsible?' " Bealefeld told the City Council.
In banning officers from working private security, police instead pledged to provide a new shift of patrol officers who would respond to areas of greatest need at the direction of a commanding officer. It was city officials' hope that the plan, which borrowed elements from programs in Washington and Boston, could then be duplicated in other areas, such as Federal Hill and Canton.
The city reached out to businesses including the Cordish Cos., which owns Power Plant Live; the Iguana Cantina; Blue Sea Grill; Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and McDonald's. While the businesses appeared receptive to the plan, none signed a memorandum of understanding setting up payments into the fund, Goldstein said.
She was unable to provide a dollar figure for how much the city paid out during that time, though some clubs spent $15,000 a month or more to hire officers for security.
Reed Cordish, vice president of the Cordish Cos., said he supports the police plan. But his company never signed the memorandum, an apparent miscommunication, and as a result has not been billed.
"We came to an agreement, and we stand by and fully support it," Cordish said Monday. "We have not yet received an invoice from the city. I would assume that that's because they are still trying to put the overall program together. As soon as they [do that] or as soon as we receive an invoice for the program, we're in it and support it."
Dave Adams, who coordinates security at the Iguana Cantina, said his club has continued to contract with off-duty officers from jurisdictions that still allow police to work at establishments that serve alcohol. But he said he remains open to the idea of participating in the city plan, which he thought was set to ramp up in the spring.
"It's a little hard to sign an MOU - nothing personal - until you're sure what you're getting and what you're paying for," Adams said. "I think it's an unresolved issue, but certainly not a dead issue either way."
The Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police has said that the off-duty officers served a valuable role, providing supplemental protection subsidized by private businesses. Robert Cherry, president of the union, has noted that the city is increasing pressure on businesses to provide better security but is hindering their ability to do so. Officers can supplement their income by thousands of dollars annually by working such jobs.
Cherry said police support the city's new plan but want to see it expanded to other areas that have lost the secondary police presence.