The Baltimore Police Department has proposed updating the boundaries of its nine districts in a way that promises a significant redistribution of law enforcement resources and seeks to mend divisions in neighborhoods currently split between multiple districts.
Officials presented the plan Thursday as a step toward making the department operate more efficiently despite a deepening staffing shortage. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the new districts would allocate resources more equitably throughout the city, instead of having them concentrated in some areas.
The proposal brings the city a step closer to establishing new district boundaries — the first substantive change in over 60 years. The redistricting process, which began last year, was required under state legislation passed in 2019 that directs Baltimore Police to reevaluate the boundaries after each decennial U.S. census.
The map reflects big changes in population and crime trends since the districts were established in 1959, officials said. The department is accepting feedback on the proposal through its website until July 28. Officials will take that into account and release a final version.
Among the most significant proposed shifts: The Western District, which currently covers the smallest geographic area at under 3 square miles, would expand to include the Reservoir Hill, Bolton Hill and Upton neighborhoods west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and the Central District would shift eastward and extend from Fells Point north to East Biddle Street.
Meanwhile, the “tri-district area” — where the Western, Southwestern and Southern districts converge where West Baltimore Street crosses Fulton Avenue and Monroe Street — would merge into the Southwestern District, including Carrollton Ridge, Union Square and Poppleton. That would eliminate what officials have called a problematic boundary that confuses residents in an area plagued by rampant gun violence.
The Eastern District would shift northeastward to include Belair-Edison, Clifton Park, Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello and Ednor Gardens-Lakeside. That would reduce the size of the Northeastern District, which is currently the largest at 17 square miles. Residents there have long complained about far-flung resources.
Greenmount Avenue would become the eastern boundary of the Northern District, which would also gain Central Park Heights, Park Circle and more. The neighboring Northwestern District would shift southward to include Franklintown and Leakin Park.
In announcing the proposed changes, Harrison said one major goal was to define the districts according to neighborhood boundaries, instead of splitting some communities into multiple districts. The proposal would reunite 18 neighborhoods.
He said that change came in response to resident demands and with equity in mind. Officials sought to group together communities facing similar challenges such as gun violence, poverty and disinvestment.
“More than ever before, our agency is sensitive to impacts of this,” Harrison said during a news conference at Baltimore Police headquarters. “Too often, redistricting has led to marginalized communities of color and poor communities being deprived of needed resources or representation.
“This is not the case. We will continue to work to build trust and relationships.”
In addition to public input, officials said they evaluated data on calls for service, crime trends, high-violence areas, workload assessments and population changes to develop the new boundaries.
A lot has changed since 1959, when Baltimore had nearly a million residents. The 2020 census marked the first time in more than a century that the city population dropped below 600,000.
Meanwhile, crime, including gun violence, is largely concentrated in a limited number of neighborhoods. In all, the Baltimore Police Department receives about 1.5 million calls for service every year — the majority of which are distributed across fewer than 34 neighborhoods, according to a recent analysis prepared for the federal consent decree monitoring team.
The city police are operating under the consent decree after a federal investigation found a pattern of unconstitutional policing, particularly in minority neighborhoods. The redistricting process falls under a staffing plan required by the consent decree, which calls for realigning or consolidating districts based on calls for service and population.
The proposed changes would create a more balanced workload across the department, Harrison said.
Members of the Baltimore City Council have been providing feedback on the draft map to police and the administration of Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott. Democratic Councilman Mark Conway, chairman of the public safety and government operations committee, said he met with police last week to share his initial concerns.
Conway, who represents a portion of Northeast Baltimore, said the most glaring problem he sees is that the proposed map would divide the York Road corridor between the Northern and Northeastern districts.
“York Road has historically been the big divide between east and west in the city — wealthier neighborhoods on the west side and not-as-wealthy neighborhoods on the east side,” he said. ”I think we want to be very cognizant of those divides.”
Conway said the York Road boundary also makes it more difficult to address policing along the corridor, which has been a focus during his time on council. Conway has a bill in committee to create a business improvement district along a 2-mile stretch of York Road.
“We want a comprehensive approach there,” he said. “To have literally just across the street a different commander, a different approach, I think could be a little problematic.”
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Democratic Councilwoman Odette Ramos said she had similar concerns with the proposed boundaries in her district in North Central Baltimore. The plan calls for making Greenmount Avenue the dividing line between the Eastern and Northern districts.
“They basically made it from the data, but that doesn’t incorporate neighborhood dynamics,” Ramos said. “You can’t separate a corridor.”
That has long been evident on Monument Street, which is currently the dividing line between two districts, Ramos said, and the result is less continuity of policing.
Ramos said she has also met with police officials to discuss the plan and they have been receptive to feedback from council members so far.
She said she was pleased to see the number of vacant properties being considered as a data point when drawing district lines. Areas with more vacant properties will experience more crime, she said, but they also have residents who are often more reluctant to call emergency services, skewing call numbers.
Ultimately, the boundaries have to go somewhere, but officials said creating the best map could mean significant improvements to policing in Baltimore.
“It’s crucial that we get this right,” Scott said during the news conference. “This will allow us to modernize policing and transform BPD into a world-class law enforcement agency.”