Safe, sound debut of ballpark is goal City gives extra attention to security details.

April 02, 1992|By Sandy Banisky and David Simon | Sandy Banisky and David Simon,Staff Writers Peter Jensen contributed to this story.

Look for brighter lights on city streets. Look for less graffiti. And look for more police officers -- many more police officers -- downtown and along transportation lines as Baltimore and Maryland prepare to inaugurate Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

For many fans, getting to the new ballpark west of the Inner Harbor means parking perhaps as much as a mile away and walking some unfamiliar blocks. Although Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street was close to some high-crime areas, Baltimore police acknowledge that Camden Yards is hard by some tough neighborhoods as well.

"There are some neighborhoods that require particular attention, and we're going to provide that attention," said Baltimore police Col. Joseph P. Newman, who is directing the city's police plan for Opening Day.

"Ideally, we're aiming for a zero-incident event. But the fact is, you put 50,000 people in a church and you'll still have a few incidents."

Officials say they're aware that Monday's opening will shape perceptions of fans not only about the new stadium but about downtown Baltimore. If they are are going to come back, they've got to feel comfortable four blocks west of the Inner Harbor.

There's more to the city's plan than police officers.

Laurie Schwartz, who heads Downtown Partnership, said city officials are replacing dim street lights and are scrubbing graffiti off walls. Merchants have been asked to replace torn awnings and to wash windows.

Last year, the partnership -- the city management organization that oversees the downtown retail district -- studied downtown security. "We found there are a whole host of factors unrelated to crime itself that make people feel unsafe: dark areas, strangers on the street, vacant buildings," Ms. Schwartz said.

"To the extent that we can make downtown look and feel better, we're doing our part," she said.

New banners have been hung along Howard Street -- yellow-and-red ones, featuring baseballs and stars, and turquoise-and-orange ones within the Market Center district.

"I think everyone is aware that for some fans it's going to be their first trip into the city," said Nancy Roberts, a consultant with the Baltimore Convention Bureau. "We'd like it to be a welcoming experience. I think they'll find that because there's so much activity outside the ballpark, they'll be comfortable."

Colonel Newman and other officials say they are aware that the public may be nervous about being in strange territory at night, particularly in the wake of a recent spate of violent crimes downtown. Their response is to try to reassure visitors with an overwhelming police presence in and around the stadium.

The colonel declined to discuss manpower, but police department sources say the number of officers inside the stadium will increase from 40 at Memorial Stadium to 48 in the new ballpark. In addition, 56 more officers and plainclothes men will be assigned to work the area near the stadium -- with many of those officers drawn from a variety of other duties.

Colonel Newman said the Opening Day plan will use the same number of district officers for stadium duties as were assigned at Memorial Stadium. But the number of traffic and tactical officers in the department has declined in recent years.

To fill the gap, detectives from investigative sections and the youth division, as well as officers from planning and research and other administrative bureaus, are being reassigned to stadium duties.

Officials have been careful, however, not to drain additional manpower from district patrol units or from downtown homicide and narcotics units. "Those are the sacred cows," a department official said.

In particular, the department is increasing the number of foot patrolmen in the Central and Southern districts, which surround the new stadium. Mounted officers and patrolmen on foot and motor scooter will patrol the downtown parking garages and lots where many fans are expected to park.

Officers involved in the stadium plan say traffic concerns are paramount. Unlike Memorial Stadium, where years of experience allowed both police and fans to anticipate traffic patterns, the new stadium remains a puzzle.

"After the first homestand of seven games, there will be an assessment," said Colonel Newman, adding that it may be a while before motorists and police begin to pattern their behavior to the new environment. "We know that we're dealing with something new and that we've got to be prepared for any occurrence."

A further problem for traffic flow Monday will come with the presidential motorcade, which will bring President Bush to the stadium to throw out the first ball. Dozens of city officers are assigned to motorcade duties as well.

"A good rule of thumb for anyone driving is that if you're coming from the south, stay to the south of the stadium," said Colonel Newman. "If you're coming from the north, stay to the north. Don't try to get right up to it."

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