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Police boost downtown presence for summer crowds

Baltimore officials hope a more visible police presence combined with a more extensive camera network will help keep downtown crowds safe this summer.

An extra 50 foot patrol officers will be on hand at night Thursdays through Sundays and on other times when large crowds are expected at the Inner Harbor and other downtown attractions, police department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

The additional officers include a recent academy class walking beats around the central district and help from officers usually assigned outside the city center. The effort includes law enforcement officers who don’t usually patrol city streets: school police officers, who can apply their expertise dealing with young people, and sheriff’s deputies, who will patrol around the city’s courthouses.

The increased deployments in the central district are an annual effort, but this year it comes after video of a Virginia tourist being beaten and stripped in front of a city courthouse over St. Patrick’s Day weekend went viral. The Baltimore Sun recently reported that disturbances involving hundreds of youth downtown that same unusually warm weekend were more serious than first thought.

Del. Patrick McDonough, a Republican whose district covers eastern Baltimore County and western Harford County to the Pennsylvania border, has called for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s resignation because he believes she lacks urgency on street violence.

McDonough’s initial foray into the issue came in a press release titled “Black Youth Mobs Terrorize Baltimore on Holidays,” stirring up accusations of racism. He argues that a lack of security at the Inner Harbor puts state money invested there at risk and called for Gov. Martin O’Malley to declare the area a “no-travel zone” until it is safe.

McDonough’s comments distract from the police department’s progress, including a 13 percent decrease in violent crime in the central district this year, said Ryan O’Doherty, spokesman for the mayor.

“Real people are going to the harbor and enjoying themselves safely,” O’Doherty said. “That’s what’s happening every day.”

The Downtown Partnership didn’t hear from residents, students or businesses immediately after St. Patrick’s Day weekend, according to Michael Evitts, spokesman for the nonprofit that aims to promote a vibrant downtown community. But media coverage has prompted some comments more recently, including concerns about the damage that negative coverage could do to downtown.

“They’re concerned about what happened, but they see it as an isolated incident,” Evitts said. “They don’t see it as the norm.”