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Baltimore City Council questions whether Fells Point response pulled police from other areas of the city

A group of Baltimore City Council members questioned city leaders about the police response to the recent spate of violence in the Fells Point neighborhood during a hearing Thursday, expressing concerns about whether other city neighborhoods saw less police protection as a result.

Sunny Schnitzer, the city’s deputy mayor for public safety, assured members of the board that citywide units were used to supplement police officers in the popular nightlife destination as well as external resources rather than patrol officers from other areas of the city.

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The questions were raised by a contingent of City Council that attended a committee of the whole meeting on the violence called by City Council President Nick Mosby earlier this week. With seven members of the 15-member body in attendance, the group did not have a quorum present and took no action.

Tensions have mounted around the police response to violence in Fells Point where three people were shot last week. Days later, a group of more than 30 business and restaurant owners, organized by former mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah, threatened to withhold their taxes if city leaders did not address crime, trash and other issues they said are plaguing the waterfront neighborhood.

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A letter signed by the business owners bemoaned a “culture of lawlessness” in Fells Point that they said allowed the type of violence witnessed during the shooting.

Under pressure from city and state elected leaders who live in the area, Mayor Brandon Scott agreed to hold a town hall meeting to address the violence last Thursday. Over 700 participants packed the virtual forum, flooding leaders with questions. Scott did not attend, sparking criticism from residents who were there.

Scott has also been criticized by Baltimoreans who live outside of Fells Point who charged that a predominantly wealthy white neighborhood was receiving special treatment from the city.

Following the shooting, police have been conducting foot patrols and business checks around 3 a.m. as the Fells Point area clears out each night. Police officials have said the department formed a paid partnership with the sheriff’s office to help patrol for at least four weeks.

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Scott has defended the deployment of additional resources to Fells Point, arguing police have deployed additional officers in other areas of the city following shootings. Police descended upon the Carroll Park area in Southwest Baltimore last month after parties there erupted with gunfire, Scott said previously. In that instance, Scott also called a town hall meeting to hear concerns from residents.

Scott did not attend Thursday’s council hearing, nor did Police Commissioner Michael Harrison. Both were scheduled to conduct a walk in the area of Mondawmin Mall Thursday evening.

Mosby said council members have fielded numerous concerns about the response to Fells Point from residents all over the city.

“Can you speak to the citizens about the resources that were shifted to Fells Point that particular night, how it took away or did not take away from resources in individual neighborhoods?” Mosby asked.

Schnitzer said the city has not pulled resources away from other areas to respond to Fells Point. Instead, citywide District Action Teams have been supplementing patrol officers, she said.

“We know those peak hours in Fells Point are peak hours in other areas of the city as well,” she said.

Lt. Col. Monique Brown said she was reluctant to talk about the deployment of officers, but District Action Teams are deployed routinely to areas of the city experiencing higher levels of violence, she said. On Thursday night, they were moved to the Western District following an incident where six people were shot, one fatally, on Wednesday, she said.

Mosby said a citywide flexible team “makes sense.”

“It’s that level of communication we should have to go back to the citizens,” he said.

Brown said the department is not always able to share how and when police presence is being increased in an area.

“Those bad actors do operate, they do follow social media, and ... places we may not have thought they would be operating in,” she said. “We can be still more forthcoming in that, but it’s still a strategy to make sure we’re not giving up too much...We just need to find a forum where you can share some of that so you can inform constituents.”

Councilman Antonio Glover questioned whether the city has been asked to pay back the state for any resources they have shared for the Fells Point area. Maryland State Police conducted DUI checkpoints in the area last weekend. The state has not requested reimbursement, Schnitzer said.

Glover questioned whether other outside agencies have declined to assist in Baltimore because of the cost. Schnitzer said that has been raised as a concern.

“We’re losing lives — 300 a year,” Glover said. “If it’s a budget issue where individuals are not deploying resources because of money, I think it’s very important we work with those agencies to come up with a plan to end violence in Baltimore.”

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