City Council members have overwhelmingly approved the first realignment of Baltimore’s law enforcement districts in more than 60 years, cementing a years-long effort that has also drawn scrutiny around its implications for community policing.

The new map, which Mayor Brandon Scott intends to sign into law, redistributes the workload of Baltimore law enforcement across the city’s nine police districts. It’s a step officials say is needed to modernize and streamline Police Department workloads in a city whose population concentrations and crime trends have fundamentally changed in the decades since current lines were drawn.

Council members voted 12-3 in favor of the new map on Monday, with Councilmen Robert Stokes, Eric Costello and Antonio Glover dissenting.

The City Council’s decision is the culmination of a process mandated by a 2019 Maryland law requiring that Baltimore redraw its police districts every 10 years following the completion of each census. Since current district lines were drawn in the 1950s, Baltimore has seen waves of depopulation, falling from a population of around 1 million to a census count of fewer than 580,000 last year.

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Over a period of several weeks earlier this year, Police Department leadership pitched residents and elected officials on the benefits of redistricting, including streamlined operations, more equitable workloads for different precincts and uniting neighborhoods that were once split between different districts. Administrative officials relied on crime data, internal policing metrics and community feedback to create the draft passed by the council.

The redrawn districts could have significant implications for the concentration of crime within the Police Department’s precincts. A recent analysis by The Baltimore Banner found that the realignment would lump more violent crime into the city’s most violent police districts, in particular shifting some of the most violent crime into more violent Eastern and Western Districts.

Scott, a first-term Democrat, has been an advocate for new policing districts in the city for years, arguing as City Council president that the department should be allocating resources based on current crime trends, not decades-old data. In a statement after the council vote Monday, Scott said that the current lines have “led to unbalanced police resources and hampered the effectiveness of our officers.”

“I am proud to announce that our new districts will reflect modern population and workload, crime trends, and community input,” he said. “Ultimately, these districts optimize police response times and will facilitate better engagement between law enforcement and our communities.”

Scott spokesman Jack French said the mayor would likely hold off until later this year before signing the bill to allow appropriate transition time, since new districts will be activated as soon as he signs the legislation.

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The Baltimore Banner’s analysis shows that the city’s attempt to equally distribute workload among its nine districts could lead to other inequities, disproportionately saddling larger versions of the Western, Eastern, Southwestern and Central districts with areas that have seen even more shootings, homicides and aggravated assaults.

Even so, the analysis found that the retooled lines were very successful at balancing workloads across the nine districts. Some experts also said that creating more violent districts could be beneficial, allowing commanders there to better address the root causes of crimes that currently span across neighborhoods dissected by existing district lines or take place just outside existing boundaries.

Councilman Robert Stokes voted against the redrawn lines and took issue with regroupings that could cloister more violence in East Baltimore, like moving the Belair Edison neighborhood into the Eastern District. The councilman, who represents central Baltimore neighborhoods in District 12, said the Eastern District is already strapped for resources and doesn’t have the advantage of initiatives like West Baltimore’s Group Violence Reduction Strategy, a city pilot program aimed at quelling violent crime by offering services to those involved.

“How are you gonna put all the pilot programs in one place,” while law enforcement already has scant resources in the Eastern District? asked Stokes. “That’s awful.”

Councilwoman Odette Ramos raised concerns about the new map earlier in the process, but ultimately voted for the new districts on Monday. In a September hearing on the redrawn map, Ramos criticized the Police Department’s decision to move the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood from the Northeastern District into the higher-crime Eastern District. The District 14 councilwoman, who represents neighborhoods such as Hampden, Oakenshawe and Ednor Gardens-Lakeside, also questioned whether the department will follow through on commitments to funnel more resources into busier patrol areas and scale back in others.

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Ramos said after Monday’s vote that many of her concerns had been addressed in map revisions. The grouping of Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello into the Eastern District remains an outstanding issue for the councilwoman, but she said she has gotten assurances that the area will have enough resources to handle its concentration of crime. The Eastern District has also been promised as the next site for the Group Violence Reduction Strategy, a development Ramos said will be important for the community’s resources.

“We just have to change the narrative on what Eastern looks like,” Ramos said. “That’s going to take a multi-agency effort, and I’ve gotten commitment from all the above to make sure that that happens.”

Ben Conarck and Ryan Little contributed to this story.

Adam Willis covers city government for The Banner, including the impacts of the large COVID-19 stimulus package that Baltimore received from the federal government.

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