On Brand: Western District Police Station gets an updated look for its "customers"

Baltimore officials, philanthropists, and the business elite packed a new community room at the Western District Police Station today to hear Scott Plank extol the renovation his company did, apparently using $4.5 million in charitable gifts.

"We've done police station fitness facilities in two other district stations," Plank, who is Under Armour founder Kevin Plank's brother, told the overflow crowd in the brightly lit, renovated room.

He said the Western District project expanded into a more general refurbishment, with new entryway stairs featuring a quote from Thurgood Marshall, public Wi-Fi, public restrooms and water refill stations, new locker rooms, and even rehabbed holding cells for arrestees, designed in such a way that "the person in custody and the officer [will be] demonstrating mutual respect for each other, because with respect comes trust, and with trust comes collaboration."

It is unclear what sort of collaboration he was referring to. What was clear is that some sort of collaboration occurred between Plank's company, Warhorse Cities, CDC, various philanthropic foundations, and the Baltimore City government.

Among the benefactors listed were the Ravens, the Abell Foundation, Under Armour (whose logos decorated much of the renovated facility), Comcast, Baltimore Gas and Electric, the Sylvan Laureate Foundation, the Wells Fargo Foundation, and the JS Plank & DM DiCarlo Family Foundation (Dana DiCarlo is Scott Plank's wife and co-director of War Horse Cities).

What was not made clear in the presentation is who paid for what and under what terms. A member of Mayor Catherine Pugh's staff said he didn't know the breakdown, and spokesman Anthony McCarthy said he had forwarded City Paper's questions to the police department and to the Department of General Services. A spokesman for the companies said he could not tell us the breakdown, but offered a quote from War Horse Cities chief financial officer, Steve Jennings: "The project was funded by a combination of City funds and private donations, with a substantial portion covered by the JS Plank & DM DiCarlo Family Foundation."

Transparency was a major theme of this event, with the hope that the police station will become an inviting meeting spot for neighbors.

Maj. Sheree Briscoe, who commands the district, led a tour of the facility. When she got to the cells, she told the crowd of journalists jammed in the hallway outside that the officer in charge of the prisoners could both be seen from the hallway—true, as there is a window—and could see the prisoners in the cells—which was not true.

In fact, the tiny, concrete-block holding cells are L-shaped. One has a man-sized blind spot invisible from the doorway, the other is entirely tucked beyond a vestibule. The cells lack toilets or sinks or windows.

Plank had referred earlier to detainees as "customers—visitors coming in from the front of the house or visitors coming in through the back, through the custody experience." A handout flier, which cited Plank's experience in retail and the hospitality industry, defined these customers as "(1) visitors to the station, (2) police officers and administrators, and (3) those who are in custody."

Two years ago Freddie Gray had a custody experience that ended in his death. It happened in a transport van, not a cell, and it's unclear to this day how he was injured, but it was under supervision of Western District police officers.

Briscoe took over command of the district shortly after the Baltimore Uprising. During the tour, she drew special attention to the words imprinted in the concrete walkway that surrounds the front of the station house. "Togetherness," "Home," "Hope," "Rebirth," "Engagement," "Trust," "Family," and "Sustainability" decorate the left flank. On the other side there are "Faith," "Unity," "Possibilities," "Love," "Empowerment," "Commitment," and "Respect."

"Don't overlook anything," Briscoe advised the reporters, "because all of this is important in terms of word choice."

The words "Sacrifice to Serve" prominently decorate the new men's locker room.

"Freedom" and the Under Armour logo dominate the new exercise room.

The lobby is bright, with the duty officer ensconced behind glass for his or her safety. The old, dingy space had a huge bulletin board displaying David Simon's epic recounting of the shooting of Gene Cassidy, who lost his sight when Clifton Frazier shot him twice in the head in 1987. Cassidy taught in the department's academy until 2015, when he left for another job. Simon's Sun story was, for many years, the focal point of that room. It's gone.

"This really represents a great day in Baltimore," Pugh said from the lectern at the front of the new community room. "It's about collaboration, because what we realize is the city can't do this work by itself."

The mayor then announced that she had an emergency to attend to and quickly left.

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