Watch CBS News

Alternative Reached To Having Businesses Pay For Dedicated Police Deployment On 'The Block,' Owners Say

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Business owners on "The Block," a stretch of strip clubs and adult stores downtown, said an alternative has been reached with lawmakers to increase security in the area that does not involve having businesses pay for dedicated police deployment.

An agreement is reportedly in place with lawmakers to move forward without closing businesses earlier or paying to shore up police presence in the area.

Owners told WJZ they have agreed to have cameras outside their establishments and to make that footage available to police, along with metal detectors or wands in place at the door. The businesses also agreed to have their private security or doormen in communication with officers.

John Sachs, president of the East Baltimore Street Association, is pleased with the results of the meeting but called the squabble a distraction to the businesses and the city.

"I would say it's a step in the right direction," Sachs said. "However for it to take this long and be over a month with constant distraction for not only us, but the city, and for us to suffer for the past month... I think it's time to move forward, wash our hands with this and try to adhere to the things they want us to do."

Business owners say they are waiting for "the dust to settle" before calling this a victory.

Before the meeting, Senate President Bill Ferguson said he was concerned with how a larger deployment of police on The Block - which the businesses would pay for - would affect surrounding central Baltimore neighborhoods.

"[T]he level of deployment by the Baltimore Police Department's Central District is an acute concern for other neighborhoods that rely on those same resources," he said Friday evening. "Therefore, before the end of the legislative session, we will adopt the areas of agreement and continue to look for ways for the State and City to provide the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore with the necessary resources to enhance security in the Central Business District."

Last week, the lawmakers behind a proposal that would close clubs on "The Block" by 10 p.m. said "a representative majority of clubs" had agreed to consistently use security cameras and share footage, pay for a dedicated police deployment, and develop security plans.

Those plans would have had to be approved by the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners and the Baltimore Police Department.

But after a meeting earlier this week, Thiru Vignarajah, the former deputy attorney general and political candidate who represents several businesses on "The Block," told reporters there was a disagreement on the deployment.

The owners were fine with making camera footage available to police and having doormen use a metal-detecting wand on customers, but they objected to spending $100,000 for additional officers, "when the cops that are there are not really doing anything," Vignarajah said.

"That was, I think, where the conversation broke down a little bit," he said.

Frank D. Boston, III, an attorney representing The Hustler Club, said about half of "The Block's" licensees have been involved in talks with Ferguson.

In January, the senate president introduced Senate Bill 222, which would require businesses on the 400 block of E. Baltimore Street with a Class A or Class BD-7 liquor license, or an adult entertainment license, to close by 10 p.m. The bill text outlines an area bounded by E. Fayette Street to the north, Water Street to the south, Holliday and Commerce streets to the west, and Gay Street to the east.

A group including 46th District Dels. Luke Clippinger, Robbyn Lewis, and Brooke Lierman, and City Councilman Eric Costello supports the initiative.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said at the time that, in 2021, there were 831 calls for service to "The Block" and the surrounding area, including eight shootings with 11 victims, 15 robberies, 17 aggravated assaults and one suspicious death.

Crime on the street has led the BPD's Central District to deploy more officers to the area, "stretching critical resources to a breaking point," the coalition said in the joint release. Lawmakers have said they've raised concerns about security in the area multiple times but the owners haven't made changes.

Owners protested the bill, saying a 10 p.m. closing time would effectively put them out of business.

Many of the club owners and management have told WJZ city and state leaders have wanted to shut the clubs down for a while.

"We want Baltimore City to be safe, but they want to bully us. They want to strong arm us," Club Pussycat Owner Bill Wantland said Feb. 7. "I'll tell them whatever they need. What do you want? I'll tell ya. Look at my cameras. Whatever you want. We'll help you."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.