The Park Heights Jewish Community Center was, at times, full of tension last Monday night when Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts hosted their fourth of five forums on public safety.
“We don’t have enough time in the night for me to satisfy you,” Rawlings-Blake said in response to one community member who criticized the mayor’s decision to close multiple youth centers across the city. “I’m not going to placate you,” Rawlings-Blake continued, adding that many of the open centers she inherited when she took office were unfit for use and closing them was necessary to plan for better centers in the future.
“I believe my record speaks for itself,” she said.
The cleanliness of the city was one of the more talked-about topics of the night. A new citywide street sweeping program expanded cleaning to about 90 percent of the city this spring, but multiple community members pointed to a need for cleaning and containing vacant lots and houses and educating school children about good habits.
“People act as though it’s Martians coming down, throwing the trash,” said Rawlings-Blake, citing a need for accountability on a person-to-person basis. “It’s us.”
Marc Partee, commander of the Baltimore Police Department’s Northwest District, sympathized with one atten-dee who voiced frustration over the abundance and boldness of drug trafficking south of Pimlico Race Course.
“We’re cleaning up that area,” Partee said, noting that the more southern neighborhood needs mainstay businesses and attractions besides the liquor stores that dot many blocks.
Creating a partnership between the police and the community was another popular topic. Batts, who received a notably warm welcome from the crowd, cited a statistic that claimed only 19 percent of all city police officers feel that they’re appreciated by the community, and Rawlings-Blake mentioned hearing from many city residents who, she said, are sick of “feeling like they’re the enemy.”
Twice Batts mentioned his willingness to “call balls and strikes,” promising the crowd that he would not let his department be ruled by politics and wouldn’t hesitate to remove officers guilty of misconduct.
“We’re trying to change our image,” Batts said. Part of his strategy to do so will involve officers taking vans of toys and sports equipment out to some of the neighborhoods they patrol and interacting with the kids they see every day in the hopes of establishing positive relationships with Baltimore City’s youngest residents.
Batts and Partee said they hope the increased involvement in the community will benefit some of the less crime-ridden neighborhoods as well.
When Avrahom Sauer, president of the Cross Country Improvement Association, told the commissioner that he and other residents of his neighborhood sometimes feel overlooked, lacking effective crime-tracking data and waiting extended periods of time between calling the police and seeing an officer, both Batts and Partee told him that the department’s response time is a work in progress. Getting officers invested in the communities they patrol, added Partee, will create a force more motivated report to calls as soon as possible.
Pamela Curtis Massey, who attended the forum with her husband and two young sons, was especially affected when a young woman spoke about telling a pair of officers at a different meeting that she had been raped only to never hear from the police department again.
“I feel her pain,” Massey said, adding that she admired the woman’s courage to speak up. Many of the meetings Massey, a community activist with a regular radio program on WFBR, said she attends are often homogenous in attendance. She was happy to see members from all parts of the Northwest community in attendance at the forum.
“It doesn’t matter what race, what religion you are,” she said. “Crime will hit you.”