Saying he doesn't see enough uniformed police walking downtown streets, Peter G. Angelos is reaching into his deep pockets to hire off-duty officers to watch over the central business district.
The wealthy lawyer and Orioles majority owner has convinced owners of property surrounding his 22-story Charles Center tower that a visible police presence will make people feel safe on streets that are largely deserted after the evening rush hour.
"I'm not saying the downtown isn't safe," Angelos said. "There is police protection. But you need more than a police officer driving by in a vehicle. Perception is the key."
The uniformed patrols started Monday in a 20-square-block area west of St. Paul Street between Saratoga and Redwood streets - a corridor of drab office fronts that developers hope to turn into a pristine pedestrian mall with fancy lights and sidewalks.
Angelos, who is proposing an 800-room Grand Hyatt hotel west of the Inner Harbor, and 14 major property owners are paying $500 to $700 a month to pay five officers $18 an hour for the extra protection.
The police initiative will cost just under $100,000 a year. Angelos is putting up the bulk of the start-up money and is paying for an additional five officers to augment the patrol at least during the first month.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke called the initiative strictly a private business move, saying the city couldn't afford to do what Angelos wants without taking officers away from other, more crime-prone neighborhoods.
"If we have a situation where you see a cop on every corner downtown, then people in our neighborhoods will demand the same kind of presence," Schmoke said. "There is no way that we could do that."
Angelos' plan is another bold move that has characterized his mission as the self-appointed citizen-savior of Baltimore since he paid $173 million for the Orioles in 1993 and turned the frugal franchise into a contender.
Believing a Schmoke-backed hotel east of the Inner Harbor is ill-advised, he is proposing to build his own next to the Baltimore Convention Center and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. He spent seven months trying to broker a deal to save Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s shipyard.
And now he is trying to boost police protection in the city's central business district.
"I'm doing something that will have a very beneficial effect for the people who visit and work downtown," Angelos said. "If it works, it will be called a good thing and it will continue. If it doesn't work, it probably will be abandoned.
"There is no question that there is a perception that the downtown area is not safe," he added. "This doesn't make me a police commissioner. It makes me somebody who knows that there is this general feeling, and wants that image dispelled."
Angelos, who oversees an empire that includes the city's baseball team, a development company and a powerful law firm of which he is the sole owner, has created something akin to his own special taxing district - on top of an existing one that pays for purple-shirted safety guides, administered by the Downtown Partnership.
Business leaders were not critical of the guides, who carry two-way radios to summon police in emergencies, but said there is no substitute for officers with power to make arrests.
In typical do-it-now fashion, Angelos thought up his police idea two weeks ago on a Monday and had a plan in place, complete with the approval of Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, two days later.
City police have agreed to pay for extra officers from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to be funded from the department's budgeted overtime at a cost of about $8,000 a month. Angelos and the other businesses will pick up the cost of patrols between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., also about $8,000 a month.
The policing zone is divided into five patrol areas, one for each officer. They will have to fill out an "activity sheet" noting when they walked into buildings, whom they saw and what they did. They also will direct traffic during the prime morning and evening rush hours.
Publicly, the building owners taking part in the Angelos policing plan say they are pleased with the initiative, calling it a sound investment.
"It is in everybody's best interest to see Baltimore's downtown be vibrant," said J. William Knott, the president of First Union Bank at 1 East Baltimore St. "I don't think there is a crime problem in the central business district, but if police officers on every corner make people feel more secure, I think that's great."
Business owners are focusing on the 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. shift, hoping to persuade suburban commuters to stay downtown after work, take in a play or eat at a restaurant or pub.
"We need to create a comfort level so people will say, 'Hey, it's OK to stay downtown after work for a couple of hours,'" said Randy Peck, property manager for Mullen Enterprises, which operates a garage under 2 Charles Plaza.