Since beginning her crusade to find out why a large police command vehicle sits outside one of the quieter blocks in Baltimore, Susan Simon says she asked her councilman, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, for an explanation.
“He told me, ‘Oh, don’t be concerned. There’s nothing inside of it. It’s just a shell. It was sitting in a parking lot, not being used by police, so the department just let me have it up here.”
The surplus Winnebago painted in police colors – where it’s staffed 24/7 by an officer – has cost taxpayers an estimated $130,000 at least, mostly in overtime and fuel to keep the heater running while the engine idles.
Simon, who lives nearby, said many people in the community want the vehicle moved, while others believe it is a bona fide surveillance center that “can see all the way to Pimlico.”
“It just flashes its lights and makes the area look like a high-crime district,” she said, standing outside the vehicle earlier today.
“I believe it’s discouraging people who might want to move into one of the nice apartments around here.”
Surrounded by traffic cones and often a parked patrol car, the vehicle takes up space on Fallstaff Road where Simon and others would park when they use the Myerberg Senior Fitness Center, located a few dozen feet away.
Some people believe the vehicle is a bona fide surveillance center that “can see all the way to Pimlico,” Simon said.
“Just today, I had to park two blocks away,” she said. “Luckily, it wasn’t snowing.”
The Brew’s article about the command vehicle has generated heated discussion online.
Several defended it, saying the vehicle is the reason why crime in the area has dropped. One noted the area’s contribution to the city’s tax coffers.
“The 5th district is the highest taxpaying district in the city right behind the two that are downtown and enjoy business revenue,” he said, noting that “with an uptick in crime in that district in recent years, it would be foolish for the city to sit on its hands when the residents are not feeling safe.”
Others said they thought the command post was a waste of money and police resources. “I’m questioning why a mobile command unit is being treated like it has a flat. And why a squad car can’t do the same,” a man on Facebook said.
A few shared Simon’s view that the vehicle is an unwelcome presence in the neighborhood.
“That particular vehicle . . . is directly in front of my synagogue and none of us want it there,” one man posted on Facebook.
Silence from Schleifer
Councilman Schleifer has not responded to phone calls and emails from The Brew seeking comment about the controversy.
Police spokesman T.J. Smith said “the community” requested the vehicle last fall after “a pattern of carjackings and robberies in the area.” Smith says crime has “subsided” since the vehicle was deployed.
The Brew noted that officers assigned to the vehicle do not handle 911 calls or make arrests.
“They just sit there and collect their pay. There is no communication with the truck,” said a source, who noted that the vehicle is not numbered and is “off the grid” of the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) emergency system.
An officer stationed in the command truck today confirmed that point, saying, “We are confined to the vehicle in our tour of duty.” The officer added ruefully, “I thought the community wanted us here.”
“When there’s so many shootings and murders across the city, having this vehicle sit here doing nothing is a travesty.”
Simon said she has repeatedly called the offices of former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and newly appointed Commissioner Darryl De Sousa to find out why the vehicle remains in front of the Myerberg Center.
“I’ve told the staff that they should inform the commissioner that this vehicle is giving the police a bad name,” said Simon, who spent two decades working at City Hall, including as an aide to veteran Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.
“I’m a big supporter of the police,” she added, “but when there’s so many shootings and murders across the city, having this vehicle sit here doing nothing is a travesty.”
– Fern Shen contributed to this story.