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City Council Seeks To Bolster Suicide Prevention, Study Women In Public Safety And Rename Park To Honor Tupac

The Baltimore City Council approved a bill to divest city retirement accounts from fossil fuel companies and another to study the feasibility of a sewage backup reimbursement program at a Monday night meeting. The legislation will now head to Mayor Scott’s desk.

Council members also introduced a slew of new bills, with aims ranging from adding a suicide prevention coordinator to the city health department to establishing a workgroup on women in public safety to renaming a park in honor of Tupac Shakur.

The bill to create the suicide prevention coordinator was an ougrowth of a suicide prevention workgroup led by Councilwoman Danielle McCray, Council President Nick Mosby said. He called the work especially urgent amid the pandemic, pointing toa Johns Hopkins study that found an increase in suicides among African-American Marylanders during the first wave of COVID-19 cases.

“We wanted to put together a workgroup to try to identify any holes or gaps from a city perspective,” Mosby. “One of the first things that came out of that group is developing a suicide prevention coordinator. This is best practice.”

He assigned the bill to the Health, Environment and Technology Committee, which McCray chairs. She introduced a bill to establish a workgroup to study women in public safety.

“Despite any progress that has been made, there is still a large disparity gap of female representation within our public safety agencies,” McCray said.

The proposed group would study statistics surrounding the recruitment, retention and promotion of experienced women and historical trends in city agencies and issue a report on its findings, as well as make recommendations to Mayor Brandon Scott and the city council.

Council members Kristerfer Burnett, Zeke Cohen and Ryan Dorsey introduced two bills that order studies of oversight within the Baltimore City Fire Department. Burnett called them a continuation of the Public Safety Committee’s investigation into the agency’s hiring, discipline and promotional practices. The legislation requires BCFD to submit a report detailing those practices to the Mayor and city council.

Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleiffer introduced a charter amendment that would establish a fund for supplementing cash rewards the Baltimore Police Department offers for tips that lead to arrests. The fund would accept donations from third-parties such as families and foundations.

He recalled how some of his constituents, in the aftermath of a murder, raised $30,000 for a reward for tips related to the case. Rewards for tips related to shootings or homicides are usually set at around $2,000, Schleiffer said.

“I heard from a lot of people in a lot of different communities throughout the city saying, ‘We don't have necessarily the capacity to be able to put together the same rewards, but we want to see we want to have the same ability to bring closure to cases of their loved ones and their neighbors and their family members,’ ” he said.

The proposed fund would allow for an equitable distribution of cash rewards, Schleiffer said; he plans to introduce a supplemental bill to determine the specific cases the fund would be used for, such as homicides or assaults.

Some council members introduced legislation to change the names of city properties. Councilman John Bullock wants to rename the James Mosher Elementary School in West Baltimore’s Bridgeview/Greenlawn neighborhood after Billie Holiday.

“Billie Holiday, as we know, has been a great icon nationwide, but also has a special place in Baltimore's heart in terms of art and culture and making political statements,” he said of the singer.

Bullock also introduced a bill to rename the Calverton Elementary/Middle School in the Winchester neighborhood the Katherine Johnson Global Academy after someone he called “another inspirational Black woman.” Johnson, a mathematician and NASA employee, wrote calculations of orbital mechanics that were vital to the first successful U.S. crewed spaceflights; the film Hidden Figures examines her legacy.

Another prominent musical Baltimorean was mentioned at the meeting: Councilman Mark Conway wants to rename Mullan Park in the Penn Lucy neighborhood to Tupac Amaru Shakur Park. The rapper was born in New York City but his family moved to Baltimore when he was a teen; he attended Roland Park Middle School, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Conway said Shakur lived in a row home by the park, which he frequented.

“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to remember Tupac and the legacy that he left and what Baltimore meant to him,” Conway said. “I hope that we can continue to give back to the Penn Lucy community and help some of the young people in that area continue to thrive.”

Councilman Robert Stokes introduced a bill to rename North Central Park at Perkins Somerset Oldtown to Nathaniel McFadden Learn and Play Park; McFadden served as the Maryland Senate's president pro tem from 2007 to 2019.

Mayor Brandon Scott submitted the first string of nominees for the Local Control Advisory Board, which will be tasked with studying the potential transition of the Baltimore Police Department from state to local control.

Unlike the rest of Maryland’s local government leaders, Baltimore City officials cannot legislate BPD’s policies or practices; the mayor can hire the Police Commissioner. This year, lawmakers in Annapolis passed a bill to put the matter before city voters. A charter amendment asking Baltimoreans whether the city should take back control of BPD will appear as soon as 2022.

Scott tapped community organizer Ray Kelly; Tre Murphy, a cofounder of Organizing Black and the Deputy Director of Community Organizing for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and Ashiah Parker, the executive director of the No Boundaries Coalition; Lydia Walther-Rodriguez, the Baltimore Regional Director for CASA; and Mark Washington, Executive Director at Coldstream Homestead Montebello Community Corporation. Scott also tapped Caylin Young, the Director of Public Policy at the ACLU of Maryland, who previously worked for Scott as a legislative aide.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
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