xml:space="preserve">

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis canceled all scheduled leave for officers this Saturday in order to meet the demands of the department's latest anti-violence strategy while simultaneously providing a strong police presence at this weekend's Pride festivities, officials said Thursday.

The decision follows an announcement by Davis on Tuesday, after six homicides in less than 24 hours, that all patrol officers and detectives will be required to work 12-hour shifts, rather than their standard 10-hour shifts, and that all deployable officers will be put on the street through the end of the weekend.

Advertisement

For Pride, the commissioner and other top commanders want to provide a particularly strong presence this year, given last year's attack at the gay Pulse nightclub in Orlando and last weekend's protests at the Pride parade in Washington, D.C., said T.J. Smith, a police spokesman.

Protesters briefly disrupted the Washington parade, arguing the event had become too corporate and didn't serve the LGBT community, and police there helped reroute the parade. The Pulse attack, in which a gunman killed 49 people and wounded many others, renewed conversations around public safety at LGBT gatherings.

"The LGBT community has been targeted and we have responsibility to ensure appropriate levels of staffing for this event and for the increased presence on the streets in general," Smith said. "In addition, we are still responding to the increased violence we saw last weekend."

Members of Baltimore's LGBT community and leaders in the Old Goucher neighborhood, where the Pride events are planned, said they welcome police this weekend — if the officers are there to support the LGBT community and understand that Pride is an inherently political environment where demonstrations may occur.

Ian Parrish, one of the owners of the Baltimore Eagle, a leather bar in the neighborhood, said he is particularly sensitive to the safety concerns as a bar owner following the Pulse attacks. He said he knows a lot of police officers in the city — including some who are members of the LGBT community — and appreciates the department's commitment.

"The officers that will be there, by and large, from my experience, want the event to happen and to result in people coming together. It's as simple as that," he said. "These are our friends, our neighbors, financial partners, people we have a beer with at the bar."

He also said Pride "takes on a political tone for some people, it's a chance to let loose for some people, it's a chance to be themselves, or to demonstrate," and police should come prepared to respect any protesters.

"If there is police interference with that coming together, with the peaceful demonstrations and festivities, then that's going to come to light," Parrish said.

Pride events are scheduled in Baltimore throughout the weekend, including a parade from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. A festival is scheduled Sunday.

Meanwhile, police also are grappling with a record pace of homicides with 159 this year in Baltimore, through Thursday.

Smith said he did not know how many officers were scheduled to be off on Saturday but now must work. The department already relies heavily on drafting officers to work overtime. Both Davis and Mayor Catherine Pugh have said the police department is understaffed and in the process of hiring more officers.

Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the local police union, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In addition to police, organizers of Pride at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) also have contracted a private security company, Baltimore Protection Services, to provide event security.

Michael Tirado, the Canton-based company's CEO, said he has been in close contact with police in the run-up to this weekend's events and has been impressed. He said he expects between 25,000 and 35,000 people to attend the parade Saturday.

Advertisement

"We've sat through plenty of strategy meetings," Tirado said. "We've planned this thing to the T. Security and police every single day have been in correspondence on an almost hourly basis. It's been pretty intense, but it's been good. I've been amazed by the level of commitment and seriousness of everyone to making sure that everyone who comes can have a great time."

In recent years, Baltimore's Police Department has repeatedly made efforts to show its support for the LGBT community, but it hasn't always worked. Davis marched in the Pride parade last year, and is planning to again this year, Smith said. Last week, Pugh honored the department's LGBT Liaison, Sgt. Kevin Bailey, for his "outstanding service."

Still, many members of the LGBT community in Baltimore feel uneasy about police, and some — including members of the transgender and sex worker communities — say they are harassed on the street. After the Pulse attack last year, Davis was booed by some attendees at a Station North event organized to show solidarity with the victims.

Kelly Cross, president of the Old Goucher Community Association, said he disagrees with a lot of the current approach to public safety in the city, and does not think that an increased police presence is the answer.

He said police are already too involved in public policy, citing perceived efforts to shut down businesses such as liquor stores they don't like in neighborhoods that he says need more commercial activity rather than less.

"Even short-term, it's the kind of approach that is precisely what's wrong with Baltimore — this vision that we just have to put the city on lock down," he said.

Cross said he welcomes the presence of police in the neighborhood this weekend if they are there "because they think it's important to show support for the LGBT community," but not if their presence is simply part of a broader strategy to flood the city with officers.

"When you go down the path of using police almost exclusively to minimize violence," he said, "you reduce your ability to find other solutions."

twitter.com/rectorsun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement