Northwest residents, angered at the use of Pimlico slots money to buy a $50,000 patrol vehicle for the Shomrim watch group, pressed a city official to explain why the Pugh administration supports a group whose patrols extend into Baltimore County.
Thomas Stosur, director of city planning who chairs the Pimlico Community Development Authority (PCDA), acknowledged at a turbulent meeting on Wednesday that Shomrim handles distress calls beyond the one-mile radius of the Pimlico Race Course where, under state law, slots money is supposed to be distributed.
“Why aren’t they coming to our community, which is in the city, and discussing this? This is our money, but we have no say in the matter,” a woman said to Stosur as boos rang out from the crowd.
Stosur said there was written material and comments that would help explain the re-direction of slots money to buy the patrol vehicle and also to purchase an ambulance sought by Hatzalah, a private medical service affiliated with Shomrim.
After promising the material yesterday, Stosur told The Brew that the mayor’s office “requested we put a pause on sending further info on this topic.”
(Previously, the administration disclosed a March 2017 letter from Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer requesting slots money for the Shomrim and Hatzalah vehicles. Mayor Catherine Pugh later approved the requests.)
The Brew today filed a Maryland Public Information request to obtain the additional material.
Shomrim’s map of the area that the Chevy Tahoe will patrol extends far beyond the one-mile radius of the Pimlico Race Course.
To the northwest, the patrol territory extends to Exit 21 of the Beltway (Park Heights Avenue), which is about four miles away from the racetrack.
The group’s coverage extends west to Sudvale Road and the Metro subway, about 4½ miles away from the racetrack and northeast to Old Pimlico Road at I-83, about three miles distant.
The areas of Baltimore County where the new Chevy Tahoe can patrol and respond to distress calls, according to the group’s website, include: Stevenson and Old Court Road, an area sprinkled with multi-million homes; Greenspring Avenue; Quarry Lake; Smith Avenue; Millbrook; and downtown Pikesville.
The vehicle’s registration and insurance mailing address is listed at an office suite on Smith Avenue in Pikesville.
Neighborhoods Not Covered
On the other hand, Baltimore Shomrim, which is loosely affiliated with watch groups in Jewish neighborhoods in New York City, London and elsewhere, does not answer calls or conduct patrols in the mostly African-American neighborhoods south of the racetrack.
The patrol group, which claims 47 members and a rabbinical advisor, does not cover Pimlico, Park Heights, West Arlington, Dolfield and Coldspring Newtown – all neighborhoods within the one-mile Pimlico zone – according to its website.
A separate neighborhood watch group, only partially organized, has gotten slots funds for Lower Park Heights. Slots money has also been apportioned to a Safe Streets violence interruption program.
Questions Not Answered
On Wednesday night at the Pimlico Sports Pavilion, Stosur was peppered with questions by an audience that swelled to over 100 people during what was billed as a routine meeting to introduce new PCDA board members.
Most of the questions were aimed less at Stosur than at 5th District Councilman Schleifer.
Schleifer did not attend the meeting. A member of his staff did not respond to “demands for answers” from the councilman made by some audience members.
In previous interviews with The Brew, Councilman Schleifer vigorously defended Shomrim, saying it provides critical safety duties in Baltimore City north of Northern Parkway.
He credits the group, for example, with recently helping city police nab several juveniles who were stealing cars in the community.
Shomrim also assists city and county police in locating missing persons, Schleifer said. In one instance, a confused elderly couple was found by Shomrim volunteers traveling down Reisterstown Road. They helped get the couple back to their home in Pennsylvania safely .
PRIOR BREW COVERAGE:
• Street cleaning and other programs cut to fund patrol car and ambulance (11/28/17)
Slot Money to Drop Sharply Next Year
During Wednesday’s meeting, Stosur disclosed that PCDA is facing an unexpected $1.17 million shortfall in funds next year, which will slash overall spending from $8.7 million in FY18 to $5.6 million in FY19.
News that community programs will have to be cut in the city added to the crowd’s anger when Stosur attempted to defend the Chevy Tahoe purchase.
“The Shomrim vehicle is an eligible expense for public safety–” he began.
“But it’s being used in the county,” a woman interrupted.
“That’s where it’s being used,” a half dozen other people chimed in. “In Pikesville . . . The county . . . You should know!”
“I don’t know where the vehicle is,” Stosur replied. “It was portrayed to us as supporting public initiatives in the city in the northwest quadrants.”
As more boos rang out, he continued, “We conferred with officials at the mayor’s office and there was concurrence that this was a reasonable and desired expenditure.”
“But it wasn’t in the plan,” a resident shot back, referring to the draft spending plan.
“I understand that,” Stosur said. “I would love to be able to – well, public safety is a huge issue for everybody. This [purchase] was a response to the councilman who represents the area.”
“He represents just one small group,” yelled out a woman. “And he went straight to the mayor!”
“He did not fill out a proposal,” another person said to loud clapping. “This is absolutely unacceptable. You are the director of planning. You should know.”
As audience members chanted, “we oughta march down to City Hall,” Stosur said he would confer with the mayor and convey their feelings to her.
“When are we going to see something?”
Stosur’s promise did not satisfy Iris Smith.
Earlier in the evening, the past president of the Glen Neighborhood Improvement Associationtold Stosur that her group has been waiting for years for playing fields at the Pimlico Safety Academy, located just five blocks from the Pimlico Race Course.
“So while we’re waiting for the fields, Yitzy gets what he wants. When are we going to see something?”
“Or has Yitzy already tied the money down?” another member of the Glen association shouted.
“That project was a previous-year funding,” Stosur told them. “It is in active development right now in terms of final planning. You can get details on that from Recreation and Parks,” he said, pointing to a nearby table.