Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr

Maryland’s Senate today voted unanimously to approve legislation requiring the Baltimore Police Department to review the boundaries of its nine districts, as well as the allocation of resources and officers for each one, after the census every 10 years.

Sen. Cory McCray (D-45th District) sponsored the bill, which received co-sponsorship from Sens. Mary Washington (43rd) and Jill Carter (41st) earlier this week. It passed this morning 45-0.

A companion bill in the House of Delegates sponsored by his 45th District colleague Del. Stephanie Smith was read in committee this week, but doesn’t have a full vote scheduled.

McCray lauded the bill’s passage, telling Baltimore Fishbowl that BPD’s districts haven’t been redrawn since the late 1950s, when the Southeast District was formed. This legislation would require that BPD take stock of each district’s population after every census—the next one is scheduled for 2020—as well as the number of service calls received, response times and other data to be determined by the city’s police commissioner, and then set a plan to redraw boundaries or allocate personnel and resources accordingly.

Doing so would make the department more efficient and better reflect the city’s changing population and law enforcement needs, he said. “I think that we come out in a better place as Baltimore City citizens.”

Baltimore’s City Council has endorsed the change. Members in 2016 approved a resolution calling on the state to pass legislation requiring BPD to review and adjust district boundaries after each decennial census. The resolution said each of the nine districts in BPD’s 86 square miles of jurisdiction has roughly the same number of officers, but its least active one for police had 60 percent of the calls for service of its most active district, pointing to an imbalance.

“Without periodic review and revision of the district boundaries it is likely that changing circumstances will lead to increasingly inefficient allocations of police resources,” the resolution warned.

Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said Thursday that he and his predecessors have been fighting for redistricting for decades. The Northeast District in particular has suffered from limited resources, he said, noting it’s the only one with at least 100,000 residents, and gets around 20,000 more calls for service annually than other districts.

“This is an issue that has been brought up by every councilman in Northeast Baltimore from Ken Harris on down to me.”

It’s been a lack of “political will” that has halted movement on changing BPD’s boundaries–including from multiple mayoral administrations, which hold sway in Annapolis–rather than opposition from police administrations, he said.

“For [districts] to not be able to have the resources that they need and deserve, simply because we haven’t had the political will or the leadership in Baltimore to redistrict, is a travesty.”

Scott expects Smith’s bill to advance through the House of Delegates and onto Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk.

This is McCray’s third time sponsoring such legislation, extending back to his tenure as delegate for the 45th District before his election to the senator spot this past November, he said. For the last two years, similar bills overwhelmingly passed the House but “couldn’t even get a vote in the Senate,” he said.

But this year, the freshman senator said he’s encountered little resistance to it from colleagues–particularly those not representing Baltimore, especially after they grasped that BPD is a state-controlled agency and understood a change in local police districting requires state action.

Like Scott, he’s expecting Smith’s bill will make it out of the House this spring.

According to a fiscal and policy note on the bill, requiring that BPD analyze U.S. Census figures and internal data would cost around $100,000, including paying for a research analyst to dive into the numbers, and for equipment and other steps needed to reproduce maps. The costs would likely apply for fiscal 2022 for the next census.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement that she supports the change, nodding to the lack of any updates to boundaries for decades.

“Doing so now will allow us to improve the way in which resources are allocated to address crime in our neighborhoods. We must also consider alignments that reflect our population change,” she said. “As we prepare for the 2020 U.S. Census, I look forward to the passage of this legislation and to working with our City Council to review and propose changes to our existing police district boundaries.”

The potential change in districting policy comes as Baltimore is set to get its first long-term, permanent police commissioner in a little over a year, with the arrival of former New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison.

McCray said he’s “confident that the commissioner will be supportive of it,” particularly in light of the approaching census.

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...