The York Road Partnership (YRP) welcomed newly-appointed Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, to its monthly meeting to discuss some of the city’s most pressing law enforcement concerns.
The York Road Partnership is compromised of over two dozen neighborhood and business associations, non-profit organizations and religious organizations, schools and other institutions in an area bordered by the city-county line to the north, 39th Street to the south, Charles Street to the west and The Alameda to the east.
The tone of last Wednesday’s meeting was a little different from other monthly YRP meetings as the city grapples with a tremendous spike in crime this year. Frustrated residents were eager to learn what Davis’ plans are to combat crime and to improve relations between police officers and members of the community, particularly the youth.
YSP President Christopher Forrest had collected written questions from residents and read them aloud for Davis to answer in a nearly two-hour exchange.
The biggest concern for residents as the potential fallout from the upcoming trials of the six police officers facing charges for their roles in Freddie Gray's death. Residents wanted to know how the police department is prepared to handle future protests and potential unrest.
Davis said the department is doing as much as it can to work with grassroot protests organizers in order for the community to get to know officers "before that moment of tension arises."
"I feel comfortable about the progress we’ve made," said Davis, who expressed confidence that the department is ready to handle any protests or other activities surrounding the upcoming trials. Much of that confidence comes from meetings with community peacekeepers regarding preventing peaceful protests from turning violent, Davis explained.
"We’ve designated and…met with peacemakers in the city," he said. " And I’m not necessarily talking about folks from the religious community. I’m talking about people who used to be in the game, who used to deal drugs, who have killed people before, who have been incarcerated, who have real street credibility."
Davis said working individuals who have street credibility will be effective because they are respected by youth in the community.
"Street credibility matters when a person who is respected by folks in the city says ‘don’t do it,’" Davis said. "We think that that will be something that serves us well coming up."
The department was ill prepared to handle a riot back in April, Davis acknowledged. "The training was barebones," he said. "The equipment was embarrassing."
However, the commissioner promised that the department has now had the proper training and has acquired adequate equipment to handle any disturbances.
Some at the meeting expressed concerns about the militarization of local police departments, but Davis said there’s nothing to worry about in Baltimore. "We will treat a protest like a protest and a riot like a riot," he added.
"The only time you’re going to see police officers in riot gear is if there’s a riot," Davis said. "You’re not going to see police officers in riot gear when there’s a peaceful protest."
YRP residents also expressed concern what they described as a worsening drug problem along York Road, noting the 4600 and 5400 blocks of York Road as the high traffic areas.
"I’ve been walking or taking the bus lately and I see drug deals every time I go on York Road, every single time," cried one resident. "I’m getting old, is this what I’m going to be retired and living around?
"It’s getting worse. I don’t want to live around here anymore and I know a lot of other people don’t," said the elderly woman. "I’m tired of this."
Davis emphasized that the department's response has been to increase foot patrols in high-drug areas.
"Our biggest commitment is to the drugs," he said. Our biggest commitment to our federal law enforcement agencies in the city is the drug task relationships with the DEA, said Davis. "We have more detectives in Baltimore assigned to DEA task forces than we do FBI, U.S. Marshals, ATF and Secret Service."
Davis promised to personally walk the specific areas of York Road that residents were concerned about to see what could be done about cleaning up those locations.
Another resident claimed to witness addicts selling methadone that they received from the local clinic at the bus stops for heroine.
Davis encouraged the residents to bring these concerns forward and promised to work with the local police district to address the problems sooner rather than later.
"2015 is a tough year that I can’t wait to put in the rearview mirror," Davis said. "But hopefully we’ll look back on 2015 one day...and we’ll all say, hopefully, this will be when things started to change for the better. Sometimes out of these circumstances comes good things."