When the Rev. Deacon Michael Bishop went to Baltimore's Eastern District police station to take part in a ride-along, he found the front doors locked. He had to enter the building through a door in the back.
"I really did not like that," said the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church cleric, a community chaplain with the department. "It wasn't very positive."
Now, after more than $45,000 in renovations to the building on Edison Highway, the front doors are open to the public for the first time in decades. A new front lobby — in an area that had been carpeted office space with cubicles — will be staffed 24 hours a day.
The renovations are among several projects in the works at police stations around the city. Similar upgrades are planned at the Southeastern and Southwestern districts, said Stephen Stricklin, chief of facilities maintenance for the city's Department of General Services.
"The major goal is to have the community feel more welcome," Stricklin said.
Energy-efficient lighting, updated flooring and pink rosebushes outside are among the improvements at the building, where the cornerstone is dated 1960.
The locked doors were a common complaint from residents, said Maj. Steven Ward, the Eastern District commander. He said the front entrance was closed for at least 25 years.
"Even though we always had a desk officer in the back, they always assumed the district was closed and locked," Ward said.
Now, "there's going to always be an officer right there," Ward said. "If [residents] need something right away, all they have to do is walk in the front doors."
Last summer, the department ordered all stations to keep lobbies open 24 hours a day after an incident in which a man who was robbed on the Gwynns Falls Trail had difficulty reaching police at the Southwestern and Southern districts. His experience received publicity and sparked concerns among elected officials.
Stricklin said the doors at the Eastern District were closed mainly because of lack of space.
"It was easier just to close up the front and use it for office space," he said, adding that the offices have been moved elsewhere in the building.
Deputy Police Commissioner Darryl DeSousa recalled reporting to the station for his first day of work in the late 1980s. He walked up the front steps and was surprised when he got to the entrance.
"I said, 'Wow, this is the front building of a police station, and the doors are locked,'" he said. "It sent a bad message."
Back then, the glass on the front doors was tinted, "and it made it look like the Eastern District was always closed," DeSousa said.
In May, a group led by former Under Armour executive Scott Plank and regional Wells Fargo president Andrew Bertamini announced plans for a $2.4 million renovation of the 60-year-old Western District station, which was at the center of protests last spring following the death of Freddie Gray.
The goal there is to make the station a community hub — with plans for a neighborhood play area, free Wi-Fi access, outdoor seating and designated public parking spots.