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City, Residents Talk Voter Safety

City officials and Annapolis police officers met with residents for two hours on Tuesday night to talk about the Eastport Community Center.

City officials and about 100 residents spent more than two hours on Tuesday night exchanging facts, opinions and concerns about whether the Eastport Community Center is safe.

In September, two men were shot near the community center; and in June, Orlando Sherman McDaniel, 29, of Annapolis died as a result of gunshot wounds he suffered nearby. No arrests have been made in either case.

After the double shooting, a group of area residents, led by Steven Conn, started raising concerns with city officials about whether the center—which is a polling location—is a safe place for people to go on Election Day.

Mayor Josh Cohen told Patch he thinks the location is secure, and he, along with Aldermen Kenneth Kirby (D-6th Ward) and Ross Arnett (D-8th Ward), invited anyone with concerns to come to a public meeting at the center on Tuesday night.

Here's a look at what was discussed.

Crime

Despite a recent uptick in violent crime in Eastport’s public-housing neighborhoods, crime is trending down significantly from where it was five years ago, said Cohen and Police Chief Michael Pristoop.

"We have tripled our deployment in this community," Pristoop said. "We really want to close these cases."

Pristoop cited statistics showing 11 calls on record for guns being fired in the community in 2012 compared with 45 reported firings five years ago.

Conn responded by saying that crime—specifically violent crime—in Annapolis Housing Authority properties has climbed above 2011 levels.

Pristoop conceded the point, but he qualified his agreement by saying, percentages can distort reality when you're dealing with small numbers. 

"Percentages can go up tremendously with a marginal difference in the numbers," Pristoop said. "What [the numbers] are not saying to me that we are seeing it trending up in a way that’s making me feel that there is a danger we need to address."

The banning list

Annapolis' Housing Authority halted the use of a banning list in August 2010, which prohibited persons accused of crimes, or those with criminal records—including misdemeanor convictions—from entering its property. Complaints from tenants led to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, and the list was substantially trimmed as part of a settlement.

"The way it was handled was no good and bordered on unconstitutional," Cohen said. 

Conn and others felt the new banning list is too permissive and asked what was being done to combat outsiders who enter the community and cause trouble. He said neither victim of the September shooting lived in the community.

Jess Pachler asked whether HACA could issue residential stickers and tow people who parked the communities without a permit.

Stickers are issued and cars towed in both Eastport Terrace and Harbor House, butfive property managers and one safety officer manage all HACA properties, said Joseph Johnson, the housing authority's executive director.

"That's something that needs to be taken up with [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development]," said Alderman Ross Arnett (D-8th Ward).

He doesn't expect additional federal funds to flow into Annapolis anytime soon and thinks residents should be vigilant about policing their community for suspicious vehicles or activity.

Changing the polling place

Several residents pressed city officials on why they couldn't relocate the polling place for this November's election and/or the upcoming 2013 city elections.

Polling locations for next year's city elections have not been decided yet, but a three-member committee will take the issue up this spring, Cohen said.

Anne Arundel County's Board of Elections chooses the polling places for federal elections, and its Director Joe Torre told Patch in September the deadline to petition for a new location has long passed.

State law mandates all polling locations be finalized before the primary elections unless there is extenuating circumstances like a building failure. 

"In a perfect world I'd love to see them give us another option," area resident Cutter Matlock said. "I think anything is possible, but I understand it may not work out for this year."

He's torn about whether he will vote at the Eastport Community Center on Election Day. Matlock doesn't like the location, but he's also wary of provisional ballots. He said he may try to round up a group of his neighbors to go vote together.

"I feel like I shouldn't have to walk en mass to go vote," Matlock said. "It just feels like a violation of my rights."

 

Read more on this issue: 

  • Residents Afraid to Vote at Their Polling Place
  • Police Chief Says Eastport Shootings Weren't Random
  • Police Decide Against Adding Officers at Eastport Polling Place
  • City To Hold Meeting on Eastport Voters' Safety Concerns
  • Mayor Says Community Center Safe For Voters

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