On a quiet, tree-lined street near the northwest county line there sits a recreational vehicle that’s occupied by a Baltimore Police officer around-the-clock.
Wrapped in BPD markings, the vehicle is described both as a command post and command center, even though it has no electronic gear to command anything except for a standard-issue police radio.
The officer who sits inside has little to do except remain in the vehicle and collect a paycheck – usually on overtime.
He or she cannot respond to citizen calls, cannot make arrests and cannot leave the vehicle, not even in an emergency, sources tell The Brew.
Save for family disturbances and the occasional rummaging through a parked car’s glove compartment, there are few emergencies in the Fallstaff and Cheswolde neighborhoods.
As one knowledgeable source put it, “There is little or no police activity there because there’s little or no crime there.”
Same Spot for Months
While Baltimore police will temporarily place a marked patrol car in a high-violence area or deploy a command vehicle for a parade, there appears to be no other BPD unit that’s been stationed for so many months in the same neighborhood, especially in a neighborhood with minuscule crime.
So why has this vehicle occupied the 3100 block of Fallstaff Road since November – costing taxpayers at least $130,000 so far, mostly in overtime pay?
This is a question that police spokesman T.J. Smith has not answered other than to confirm that the vehicle is manned 24/7 and was deployed after “the community had been in touch with us.”
“There had been a pattern of carjackings and robberies in the area that have subsided since it was deployed,” Smith said.
Smith referred all other questions to 5th District Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, who lives not far from the parked vehicle.
Officers have little to do – they cannot respond to citizen calls, cannot make arrests and cannot even leave the vehicle, sources say.
Schleifer appears to be the key to an arrangement that defies standard police protocol – together with Shomrim, the citizens patrol group the councilman has championed.
Last November, Schleifer announced in a joint appearance with Mayor Catherine Pugh that a $50,000 Chevy Tahoe had been gifted to Shomrim, taken from Pimlico Racetrack slots funds.
The Tahoe was soon photographed flashing its lights in tandem with the command vehicle stationed at Fallstaff Road.
Yeshiva World News credited Schleifer with obtaining the command vehicle for the community, while The Brew documented how Schleifer lobbied the mayor to reallocate community slots money for the purchase of the Tahoe.
Where’s the Tahoe Now?
Sources say the BPD command vehicle was originally supposed to serve as a base for Shomrim, which was then flooding its Facebook pages with alarming reports of carjackings and robberies in the northwest.
The push by Shomrim to affiliate its activities with the BPD was met with reluctant acquiescence by the department’s upper echelon, sources say.
But as questions in the media and a public meeting drew more attention to Shomrim, the department shifted course.
In January, Captain Jason Yerg, the group’s biggest advocate, was reassigned from the Northwestern District to headquarters.
Since then, Shomrim’s presence has noticeably declined in the Fallstaff, Cheswolde, Cross Country and Glen neighborhoods of the city and in Pikesville.
Baltimore County police say they had no record of any arrest made through the assistance of Shomrim. City police say they do not keep such records.
Schleifer did not respond to questions about the whereabouts of the Chevy Tahoe – or about whether it is being “hidden” in a Shomrim member’s garage in Baltimore County, as widely rumored.
While the Tahoe has disappeared from public view, the BPD command truck remains.
Murder a Mile Away
The continued presence of the command vehicle has drawn criticism.
“It irritates me when I see a command center that’s at Falstaff [Road] that’s focusing on petty crimes when we have less than a mile away an area with drug markets and a high homicide rate,” Sean Stinnett said at a recent candidates’ forum for the 41st District legislative race.
But moving the vehicle to a violence-ridden part of the district, such as lower Park Heights Avenue, would likely have little effect because the vehicle does not play a proactive role in crime fighting.
“It’s not an assigned patrol unit and, as such, it’s not part of the patrol fleet to be dispatched to a crime scene,” said a source. “So the best an officer in the vehicle can do is forward a citizen complaint to dispatch for a patrol unit to handle.”
The Fallstaff Road assignment is sought by “house cats” for overtime because of the minimal effort required to work the shift.
Smith said officers assigned to the command vehicle “are expected to perform the duties of a police officer, which means acting on a crime when necessary.”
He was asked to list calls that these officers have responded to in the last month and to supply crime reports that they have written. So far, he has not responded.
Many of the officers assigned to the vehicle are on “light duty” and do not have full police powers, sources say. The officers are assigned, or they volunteer, from all nine districts. Most are paid overtime due to the shortage of available police.
Such overtime would pay $40-$45 an hour at minimum – and up to $80-$100 an hour if a sergeant or lieutenant (with higher pay base) volunteers to sit in the truck.
“A lot of these admin ‘house cats’ that don’t work the street have the option to work at the command vehicle. This is much-sought-out overtime because of the minimal effort required to work the shift. They just sit there and collect their pay,” said a source who, under city policy, is not allowed to speak to the media.