Life Without City's Pals

Police Athletic League Centers Close Today, Some To Be Reborn, But Many Complain That It Won't Be The Same

July 01, 2009|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Peter.hermann@baltsun.com

Today, Baltimore's Police Athletic League centers will shut down and, in most cases, will be reborn.

The police will leave, though they'll stay for one or two more weeks to ease the transition as 16 of 18 centers become one with the city's Department of Recreation and Parks.

City officials announced the end back on March 18, but residents fought back at budget hearings and in gyms where city leaders let them speak but timed them using red, yellow and green traffic signals.

Residents pleaded over and over again that officers made all the difference, as protectors and role models, when they shed uniforms and donned sweats and mentored kids and organized field trips and helped with homework and coached soccer and kept vulnerable youths off the street and out of trouble.

But minds had been made up. It was the budget, officials said officially, but perhaps more than anything, they just didn't like the idea anymore of police officers permanently assigned as counselors. The police commissioner stated that workers should be "staying in their lanes," and the rec and parks director said, "We don't want to waste officers' time" managing rec centers.

A division that began in the 1990s when the Police Department staged a coup and took over some drug- and crime-ridden rec centers finally culminated with a new, clear division of labor.

The Police Department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, notes that far from abandoning rec centers, officers are being required to visit to talk with kids and spend time with them. That way, the commissioner has said, the youths get to know many officers, not just the few they had played with.

But two PALs, Bocek and Rosemont, are closing for good. Rec and Parks is running a summer camp at Bocek, so that will at least have some programming for the next few weeks. But at Rosemont in West Baltimore, in one of the city's most impoverished and dangerous neighborhoods, the doors are locked.

The one officer still assigned there had for the past few weeks been repeatedly assigned elsewhere, and the community services officer left a week ago.

At a community meeting in April, Recreation and Parks Director Wanda S. Durden assured Rosemont residents that if they found a viable nonprofit foundation, they could reopen the rec center.

Rick Mosley ran with the idea and has submitted a proposal to the Parks and People Foundation seeking a $150,000 grant. He has repeatedly called the Rec and Parks offices to follow through but said he couldn't find anyone to talk with. "Not even a call returned," he said Monday.

Mosley's son, Sean, grew up in Rosemont and shot his first basketballs with the help of an officer at the PAL Center. Sean is now heading into his sophomore year as a starter for the University of Maryland Terrapins.

Durden spoke to a Baltimore Sun reporter about 12:30 p.m. Monday and said she is interested in Mosley's proposal but warned it would have to include not only running the rec center, but all the costs associated with building upkeep. "Discussions haven't happened as quickly as we would have liked," she said. "We're open to have someone run it, but when we say run it, we mean all of the operating and management costs. ... It has to be the whole kit and caboodle."

Mosley said the city should at least maintain the building. But that's something for a discussion that, at that point, two days before the official turnover and 21/2 months after the first public meeting in which rec officials promised to help, hadn't happened.

At 1:30 p.m. Monday, Mosley said a representative from Rec and Parks had scheduled a meeting July 9 with Durden and him. Mosley said three hours later that Rec and Parks had called to reschedule the meeting for July 15.

But that won't stop Rosemont from officially closing today, and Mosley said he already sees kids hanging around with nothing to do. Back at her office, Durden said she's eager to show off all the new programs her staff designed for what used to be PAL centers.

"Everyone is all-hands-on-deck and working feverishly to make sure the transitions is smooth and that the kids have some great summer programming," the director said.

Rick Mosley is still waiting.

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