Baltimore police looking at other jurisdictions to improve casino security

BALTIMORE - You don't ever really play with the house's money.

So when Maryland Live! opened nearly two years ago, Anne Arundel County Police went from patrolling what was once just a mall, to protecting a massive entertainment district with the largest casino in the state.

"It's eye opening to see the amount of people that come here on a daily basis or the weekend,” said Anne Arundel County police Sgt. Stephen McBee.  “Crowd is not the word for it."

McBee has been working the revamped county police casino detail for about six months.

He is part of what police may eventually call the Arundel Mills Entertainment District, a growing unit to help police the growing attraction.

 “I think that is important that we learned that in an entertainment venue as large as this, it really needs its own attention,” said Deputy Chief Pam Davis.

Davis says the need has evolved as the attraction has.

Maryland Live! says it brings in up to 20,000 people a day and almost $2 million a year.

At first the area was just part of patrol during each shift, now it is set to grow to 18 permanent officers with a substation and public access.

"I would say that as we've grown in the year and a half we do recognize that is the best practice right now.  It needs its own post, it needs its own people there on a daily basis,” Davis said.

But the key police say is communication and cooperation from the casino itself.

“The evolution of the relationship has grown beautifully. They really are partners with us in keeping not only the casino but this entire district, I think safe,” said President and General Manager of Maryland Live! Rob Norton.

Norton says his casino’s relationship with police is made exponentially more effective by Maryland Live's ubiquitous and powerful security system.

Knowing that at all times, everything is watched and recorded with clarity leads to quick resolution to any criminal activities that do happen.

Technology partnered with an open working relationship that continues to grow to meet a dynamic need.

“We are evaluating every day. How can we do things better, how we can do things differently and so I wouldn't call it learning pains of growing pains, but it is a constant evolution," Norton said.

It is an evolution currently serving as a blueprint for the last two large casinos to come online.

While the National Harbor site is still two years off, Baltimore's Horseshoe Casino is set to open in just a few months and along with it, a brand new detail for Baltimore City Police.

“We know this is going to be yet another area that draws in a lot of tourists and we want to be able to show our city in the best light and so it is very important to have some very well trained professional officers out there," said Baltimore City Lieutenant Col. Melissa Hyatt.

Hyatt was charged with heading up what the BPD is calling the Casino Mini-District.

While the department won't cop to how many officers will be involved just yet, they are taking plenty of advice from Anne Arundel County on the lessons that force learned with Maryland Live!

"It is very beneficial for us that instead of re-inventing the wheel with this project and not knowing what to expect, we've been able to reach out to our peers and they've been honest and forthright with telling us these are the things that went well and these are the things we wish we had done differently and that's a huge advantage for us," Hyatt said.

Lessons learned in how to handle thousands of tourists at once, selecting officers with specific skills for the detail, developing a close working relationship with casino management and making sure part of the 24-hour shift involves patrols through surrounding neighborhoods.

The specifics of Baltimore's plan should be released in the next month so the community can know what to expect from its new detail, one that will continue to take shape as the last rivets tighten on the Horseshoe Casino.

Both Maryland Live! and Anne Arundel County Police say Baltimore and Prince George's County Police Departments have been picking their brain for best practices on casino security.

Later this month all three departments will take part in a symposium on the matter as well.

The BPD says it has also studied casino security in similar sized downtowns as well including in Cincinnati.

SEE RELATED: Baltimore communities concerned about lost casino revenues


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