Under federal order, Baltimore is dismissing the Nation of Islam Security Agency in three weeks, even as outraged residents continue to rally to keep the guards in the city's public housing projects.
The Housing Authority will turn over security in its high-rise apartment buildings to Wells Fargo Guard Services by midnight Dec. 13, housing chief Daniel P. Henson III said yesterday.
Mr. Henson told a crowd of housing officials and tenants at an authority board meeting that he had no choice but to follow the federal ruling and notify NOI Security that its contract with the city would end.
Several tenant leaders immediately vowed anew to fight on behalf of NOI Security, which has received high marks for restoring calm in public housing. Baltimore's high-rise towers, which are being demolished, had been notorious for drug dealing, violent crime and miserable conditions.
"When you have something that's working, you don't throw it out," said Anna Warren, a longtime resident of Claremont Homes who says she feels safe for the first time visiting friends in the high-rise buildings since NOI took over.
Martha Benton, who lives in Douglass Homes, said: "What happens in the high-rises, it has a domino effect. The dealers, they'll be coming in from Chicago, from New York, and we'll be right back where we were before. They'll come in and blow us away. Don't we have any rights?"
Mr. Henson pledged to work with tenant groups, saying: "I promise you today that we will not go back to where we were."
Mr. Henson said he would require that Wells Fargo Security live up to the same standards as NOI Security and also not carry firearms. He said he was making plans for an "orderly transition" before the midnight deadline, but would not elaborate.
However, several tenants said they would march in the streets and openly resist the takeover by Wells Fargo, which used to patrol some housing developments.
NOI Security has sued the Housing Authority and federal government charging that its $4.5 million contract was being wrongfully severed. The lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which criticized the city's choice of NOI Security as "arbitrary," acted because of pressure from Congress and Jewish groups. The security group is affiliated with the Nation of Islam, led by Louis Farrakhan, who has been criticized for making anti-Semitic remarks.
HUD repeatedly found the city violated federal contracting rules in choosing NOI over Wells Fargo, which offered to do the job for $1.1 million less.
The administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke fought the federal government for two years to keep NOI Security before giving up after the final verdict earlier this month.