Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) has teamed with area businesses for a citywide revitalization initiative in Baltimore's police districts to better serve their communities. The police districts are in critical need of renovations to strengthen their ability to serve all Baltimore City communities. Many of the district buildings are rundown, with poor ventilation systems, inadequate fitness facilities, restrooms, dining and meeting facilities.
This compounds the strain on officers, with the already incredible demand to respond to a high volume of citizen concerns and crime. These poor working conditions are adversely affecting officer morale. Along with alarming levels of stress and long hours, officers face constant work-related hazards, risking their lives daily to keep communities safe.
This initiative was sparked by BPD Lt. Brian Pearson's collaboration with several Baltimore civic and business leaders including George Petrocheilos, Bob Manekin, Todd Warren, and other supporters to help alleviate some of the burden on officers. Lt. Brian Pearson comments, "We ask a lot from our officers each and every day and they rise to meet every challenge, but we must also invest in our officers, both mentally and physically. When we invest in our officers, we are investing in Baltimore City. Our goal is to make Baltimore a better place to live, work, and play."
Mr. Petrocheilos mobilized many of Baltimore's powerhouse business leaders and entities, including John Paterakis, Aris Melissaratos, Ken Banks, Under Armour, DLA Piper, Martin Knott, and Mission BBQ to build the financial support that brought this project to life. Scott Plank and Andrew Bertamini have been the biggest financial supporters so far, bringing the funds raised from the business community to over $300,000.
As a show of dedication to this partnership, several officers committed to performing the labor during their time off. Officers Dave Sherman and Luis Gonzales, who are both skilled in construction, are leading the efforts. "This project started small, but it has grown to be much bigger as time goes along. We've been working on this project for 2 years. We definitely need a new building environment and new tools to do our job better," says Officer Gonzales. Officer Sherman comments, "We come to work every day and try to make things better for the men and women that work with us and for the communities. We've gotten a lot of great support from the community, so it's been awesome. I'm native to Baltimore; I grew up in the city, seeing the city fall on hard times then rebound again and again. We try to get people to stay and invest in the city. Every chance we get we talk to businesses to let them know that we care as much as they do, and to try to get them to invest in us." With the officers performing the renovations themselves, the project saved over $800,000.
In the Southeastern district, local business leaders and the officers were able to renovate the roll call room and break room, construct an outdoor lounge and a cookout area for officers to socialize. Also, the lower level received a complete overhaul, which included re-tiling and renovation of locker rooms, showers, boiler room, washer and dryer, weapon lock boxes, and snack area. The officers also constructed a full gym, with cardio equipment, weight lifting area, and matted area to engage in stress-relieving workouts.
So far, these improvements have had a positive impact on officers' physical and mental well-being. Major Daron Garrity of the Southeastern District noticed, "There are a lot more officers working out, increasing their physical fitness...in an urban police department, on average our officers get in and out of their patrol cars 30 to 70 times a night and fights happen. With more officers using the new workout facility, our officers feel more confident on the streets to handle violent situations without deadly force. This job is stressful, both physically and mentally. They [officers] need a constructive outlet to alleviate their stress."
The Southeastern district is continuing with additional improvements. The next steps for this revitalization initiative will include bringing this model to Baltimore's other 8 police districts. The BPD Capital campaign is attempting to raise $3 million to continue improvements. Retired Deputy Commissioner Skinner explained, "Districts are important to the historical fabric of neighborhoods, and are an important place for officers themselves. As the station houses have gotten older, it has created a negative dynamic. This initiative is a stepping stone in the right direction."
Due to the significant impact of this project, some major corporations such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Wells Fargo, and Under Armour have already committed to the efforts in other districts. On September 19, 2014, Under Armour will be sponsoring a district cleanup at the Southwestern District. Commissioner Anthony Batts commented on the revitalization initiative, stating "...as a part of our strategic plan, this is something that the communities of Baltimore and our officers want to see happen. It has been great to see the community and businesses come out strong to make this happen. Each week our officers are going from station to station cleaning and the people from the communities come out in masses to support and assist with beautifying the stations. I am so proud of the work that is being completed. This is a morale booster for the officers and a positive for the community."