Sean March has a new job: He's part tour guide, part goodwill ambassador, and the eyes and ears for the city's downtown police officers.
Mr. March is one of Baltimore's 35 new Public Safety Guides, who will walk downtown streets starting March 1, report suspicious behavior to police, give directions to lost tourists and get to know merchants.
The guides are expected to make downtown Baltimore a safer, friendlier place. They were hired by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, a consortium of property owners. The guides' $17,000-a-year salaries -- plus health benefits -- will be financed by a surcharge on commercial properties.
As part of his training yesterday, Mr. March walked the downtown streets with veteran police Officer Margaret Kelley, who showed the new safety guide how to check locks on closed stores, peek down alleys for thieves and get acquainted with the people who work and live downtown.
While Mr. March and Officer Kelley walked along Charles Street, they were distracted by the officer's police radio, which sporadically reported the description of a suspect who had shot a police officer in Northeast Baltimore.
The officer described the downtown area as a friendly place to work, and she told Mr. March that she looks forward to help from the guides. But as the radio blared, Officer Kelley told the young guide to be alert, even when walking into a store to say good morning to a merchant.
"There could be a burglary in progress, and you could be mistaken for a police officer," she said.
After introducing Mr. March to a businessman, Officer Kelly said, "This is a great community. Call everybody 'sir.' Even panhandlers and the homeless. Give everybody respect." Mr. March listened intently to the officer's advice.
While Mr. March and the other new safety guides will not carry weapons or make arrests, they will carry radios. A special dispatcher will alert them of any problem downtown the police might need help with.
Eight hundred people applied for the job that Mr. March and 34 others were hired to do.
The guides will wear black jackets and purple hats labeled "Downtown Baltimore" and will walk an area bounded by Centre Street on the north, Pratt Street on the south, the Fallsway on the east and Greene Street on the west. They will be on patrol seven days a week from about noon to 8 p.m.
While the guides are in training, they are wearing red jackets with matching hats. They have already had basic law enforcement and first aid training. Their training has included a primer on Baltimore history, a tour of the city, and a visit to the B&O Railroad Museum and Fort McHenry.
The guides have even attended Dale Carnegie workshops, which taught them the importance of positive thinking.
The public safety guides are being augmented by 28 "clean and sweep ambassadors" who will keep downtown streets clean.
Security work is not new to Mr. March, 21, the son of an Anne Arundel County police officer. He has already worked as a security guard assisting a police officer in Anne Arundel County and is a volunteer firefighter in Ferndale.