The Baltimore Police Department’s nine districts are expected to take new shapes in 2021 following the 2020 Census.
Many local politicians have long advocated for the district boundaries to be reevaluated using updated population information, as well as data about calls for service, crime trends and violence. The Maryland General Assembly approved new legislation earlier this year that requires the department to draw new boundaries after each decennial census.
“This is about having our police department have its resources given out based on data that we have here in the present day. Our police districts have not been redrawn in my lifetime in any significant manner,” Democratic City Council President Brandon Scott said Thursday at a news conference outside the Harbel Community Organization in Northeast Baltimore. The law went into effect Oct. 1.
The new boundaries will be “based on the violence, based on the population, based on the calls for service and everything else we have to do in order to have a functioning police department," Scott said.
The current districts are largely based on boundaries drawn in the 1950s when the city’s population was close to 1 million. The city today has just over 600,000 residents.
“We know crime and public safety is one of the biggest issues that we can work on for the city of Baltimore,” said Democratic Sen. Cory McCray, who introduced the legislation earlier this year.
McCray said department will be “looking at the service calls, looking the police response time, looking at shifts, and those geographic boundaries, and making sure our city is operating in a 21st century, instead of a 20th century.”
“This is about having our police department have its resources given out based on data that we have here in the present day."— Brandon Scott, Baltimore City Council president
It’s unclear what the new boundaries will look like. The legislation says the police department has one year after the census to submit a plan to the mayor and City Council for their approval.
At a meeting Thursday night of City Council’s public safety committee, members discussed the need to redraw boundaries before plans are made to move or renovate station houses.
Funding requests outlined by Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in an Oct. 2 letter called for $24.5 million to move and repair stations, including $4 million each to relocate the Central, Eastern, Southwestern and Northeastern. The Northwestern would get a “complete renovation” at $5 million. The Southeastern and Southern would be repaired or renovated at $1.5 million each. The Western and the Northern would get $250,000 apiece in “preventative maintenance.”
Democratic City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, the committee chairman, and Scott questioned Police Commissioner Michael Harrison about the plans, and whether it was premature to identify new station locations before redistricting.
“Some are going to expand, some are going to contract," Schleifer said of the districts, expressing concern a station could end up outside a new district’s boundaries.
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Harrison said a staffing plan that is expected to be completed by the end of the year “should inform us of how many people will be in a district” and that he’s “keeping options on the table.”
Harrison did not elaborate on whether the department has begun evaluating data for the new boundaries, and a police department spokesman did not respond Thursday to questions about plans for redistricting.
The police commissioner will have to balance a variety of factors, and reaction to any proposal could become divisive. Similar shifts in resources among neighborhoods, such as those involving schools and firehouses, have drawn criticism.
The Northeast District, for example, is the currently largest in terms of geography. It includes 17 square miles and 132,000 residents, and could potentially receive more resources. It has had 32 homicides this year. But one of the smaller-sized districts, the Western, has experienced higher amounts of violence, with 45 people killed there so far this year.
Democratic Del. Stephanie M. Smith said at the news conference that the redistricting law is another example of the importance of residents participating in the census count.
The officials also highlighted passage of another law that requires the police department to hire more civilian employees. The department will have to have a ratio of 80% sworn officers to 20% percent civilians. Currently, only 13% of employees are civilians, Scott said.
Harrison has said he plans to increase the number of civilian employees to get sworn officers on the street and performing police duties.