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Politics

‘It’s not perfect’: Baltimore City Council gives initial approval for police redistricting plan despite constituent concerns

The Baltimore City Council advanced a proposal Monday for the first major change in the city’s police districts in more than 60 years, setting up a final vote next month.

The new map, drafted by Baltimore Police with input from Mayor Brandon Scott’s office and members of City Council, would shrink the size of the city’s sprawling Northeastern District, the city’s largest by population and police workload.

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The redistricting process, which began last year, is required under state legislation passed in 2019 that directs Baltimore Police to reevaluate the boundaries after each decennial U.S. census. The current boundaries for the department’s nine districts have remained roughly the same for decades, despite major shifts in population and crime trends.

City Council members voted 11 to 3 in favor of advancing the proposal despite reservations shared at a committee hearing earlier this month by residents of the Belair Edison and Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhoods, which would move from the Northeastern District to the Eastern District under the plan.

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Residents and neighborhood leaders argued their property values could decrease as a result of a move into a district with a higher crime rate. Others said they worried fewer law enforcement resources would be dedicated to their neighborhoods, particularly for proactive policing.

Councilmen Robert Stokes, Eric Costello and Antonio Glover voted against the new plan Monday. Councilwoman Phylicia Porter was absent from the meeting.

Glover said Monday he voted against the proposal because numerous constituents have expressed concerns about diminished property values and losing existing relationships with district police leadership. He said residents of Belair Edison and Madison-Eastend, which would become part of the Southeast District, were particularly concerned.

“They build a rapport with certain individuals and then they’re respected,” Glover said his residents told him. “We all know that we’ve got to build trust amongst the police and community.”

The draft map advanced by council members Monday reflects a series of changes from a previous iteration as a result of feedback from residents and council members. The ma’s first draft, floated preliminarily before an introduction to City Council, made Greenmount Avenue the eastern boundary of the Northern District. The department changed that after residents and elected officials argued it would break up a major business corridor.

Council members have been supportive of the map’s efforts to eliminate problematic intersections like the existing “tri-district area,” where the Western, Southwestern and Southern districts currently come together. That area, which has been plagued by frequent gun violence, will merge into the Southwestern District, including Carrollton Ridge, Union Square and Poppleton.

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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.

Some residents at last week’s council committee meeting said they were concerned about severing relationships with district commanders that they have built through years of interactions.

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Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said he had instructed all district commanders to work toward a smooth transition by personally introducing community leaders to their new command staff and officers.

“Concerned officers are concerned officers, whether they’re on one side of the street or the other,” he said at the time.

Councilwoman Odette Ramos, who objected to some of the proposed district changes included in the plan during that hearing, voted in favor of the proposal Monday. She said she still has concerns about Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello moving to the Eastern District, but has been assured the Eastern will be the next district to begin using the Group Violence Reduction Strategy, an anti-violence initiative piloted in the Western District that aims to dissuade potential shooters and victims of violent crime by offering alternative services.

“It’s important to do redistricting, but it’s not perfect,” Ramos said. “None of us are super happy. But we are getting additional resources. We are getting GVRS, which I think is really important for CHM [Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello].”

Baltimore Sun reporter Lea Skene contributed to this article.


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