On his fifth night in a row of meetings with community groups around the city, acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said he was confident he can change the culture of the department, get more well trained officers on the streets and put a dent in the city’s open air drug markets.
Harrison spoke Friday night at a public town hall at Frederick Douglass High School — just one week after a shooting inside the school injured a coach and beloved staff member.
The school resource officer who tackled the assailant was in the back of the auditorium and was applauded by the audience. The crowd also stood and clapped to recognize the work of 56-year-old Michael Marks, a special education assistant, who was injured in the shooting.
Among the more than 30 people who asked Harrison questions at the two-hour meeting, several residents spoke of frustration they feel when they see officers failing to attempt to interrupt open air drug markets in their neighborhoods. They asked Harrison, who has come to the city from New Orleans, if he could work on the problem in order to make their neighborhoods safer.
Harrison said police have worked to end the open air markets, but officers have to know what to do when there are 30 men who are dealing on a corner and just one police officer.
“We are understaffed and overworked, but we have to be able to do what is right before us,” he said.
City residents asked Harrison direct questions — including whether he supports legislation that would allow Johns Hopkins University to have a private police force, something the university has proposed. Harrison said that’s a decision that’s up to the legislature, but if it’s approved, he would find ways to make sure there was good coordination between the force and educators.
Asked if he would be in favor of arming school police, Harrison said he would if school resource officers are well trained and parents and leaders want armed officers in schools.
Harrison said he wants smart, well trained officers to join the force, and will make sure their supervisors are held accountable. Police, he said, are overwhelmed with calls and don’t have time to answer all of them. New technology, he said, can help reduce the paperwork and give them more time for policing.
The crowd in the school’s auditorium appeared to support the acting commissioner, often nodding in agreement and clapping.
Residents asked Harrison to take a holistic approach to policing, suggesting that more trees, green spaces and less trash on the streets would help keep criminals out of their neighborhoods.