The bestowing of a safety vehicle to an influential Northwest Baltimore community group has stoked controversy among residents in Park Heights and other Baltimore neighborhoods.
The $50,000 2017 Chevy Tahoe was given to the Shomrim, a neighborhood crime watch organization that patrols the city’s orthodox Jewish community in Northwest Baltimore. The vehicle was presented to the group by Mayor Catherine Pugh at an event earlier this month.
The vehicle was purchased from slot machine proceeds administered by the Pimlico Development Revenue Authority which allocates the funds that are supposed to be spent on neighborhoods within a half mile radius of the Pimlico Race Track. There are no slot machines at Pimlico but the track receives 1 percent of Maryland slot machine revenue.
The use of slot funds for a vehicle that will be used by private security group, which has been linked to controversial tactics in the past, has only heightened tensions over crime strategies. Especially as the vehicle is painted with a color scheme similar to Baltimore police vehicles and includes a police type logo on the back.
“The Tahoe allows everyday city residents of Shomrim to look like they are driving an official police vehicle,” argued Christopher Irvin, a resident of nearby Howard Park.
“I’m sure that there is something in the Maryland Annotated code that allows police to charge people with impersonating a police officer and yet the mayor would hand over a vehicle so closely representing an official police vehicle.”
According to a report by the Baltimore Jewish Times, a letter by Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (D-5), sent to the office of Mayor Catherine Pugh indicates he personally requested slot machine money to be redirected to purchase the SUV for Shomrim.
Schleifer told the Jewish Times, that money invested in Shomrim is a good investment for all of Park Heights.
“Public safety is my number one priority,” Schleifer said. “Shomrim helps the police in assisting with all of crimes, and this command center (vehicle) is a benefit to the entire community that will help the volunteers and police catch criminals committing crimes.”
However, Irvin, an activist who is a board member of Howard Park Civic Association said giving a vehicle to Shomrim showed a preference for one community while others struggle with more serious crime.
“This is not about attacking anyone, it is about parity and a long-standing issue of the redirecting of monies from lower Park Heights and the surrounding predominantly Black communities,” said Irvin, noting that Howard Park has had several recent homicides.
In 2012 Shomrim was embroiled in controversy after two brothers – Eliyahu and Avi Werdesheim -working for the group were accused of accosting and beating a 15-year old Corey Ausby while he was walking through Norwest Baltimore
The brothers were charged with assault (Ausby’s arm was broken during the incident), but argued in court the victim was holding a wooden board which prompted them to act in self-defense. Prosecutors argued the beating was unprovoked.
The pair were convicted of wrongful imprisonment and assault and sentenced to three years of probation.