New BPD district commander is a woman with vast experience

Maj. Natalie Preston is the new commander of the Western Police District, which includes Bolton Hill. She has more than 24 years of experience with the Baltimore Police Dept.

Jim Prost, chair of the BHCA safety and security committee, had an opportunity to speak with the major and learn about her experience and expertise and her suggestions for addressing safety and security issues in Bolton Hill in particular. He writes:

She was promoted to major last year and named to succeed Maj. Matt Correll, who was promoted to head BPD education and training programs citywide. Preston, 44, grew up in West Baltimore and is quite familiar with the Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill neighborhoods. She previously worked within the Central Police District, where Bolton Hill was located until the recent police redistricting. The major has a BS degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in criminal justice administration. She is pursuing an additional degree in drug counseling.

She has served BPD in a variety of functions: narcotics, criminal investigation, juvenile crime, the district flex unit, the pawnshop unit, and most recently as public safety data liaison. She is a multiple award-winner for her services within the department, including a public safety service award, supervisor of the year award, and a community service award. She won a national black woman’s award for her work in the Belair- Edison Community.

Safety and security issues in the western district include both violent crime and property crime. According to Preston, much of the crime is drug related. She said both Pennsylvania and North Avenues are “hotspots.”

Lately, a particular crime focus is on problematic businesses that are open early and close late (6 AM to midnight). These attract significant drug traffic. They often sell beer, wine and liquor, but even those that only sell groceries and carry-out food are problematic. She is working to get these businesses to open later and close earlier, and to assert better control over their clients. With strong community support it is possible to have the most problematic business padlocked, she said.

At BHCA’s April 2 board meeting, Preston said that she makes a point of close-watching those spots. “Every morning, I ride through the entire district before I arrive at work, checking on hotspots along Pennsylvania Ave., North Ave. and Preston Street,” she said.

Crime in  Bolton Hill is primarily property related (70 percent of all the reported 288 crimes in 2023), with the highest proportion of incidents by the 13 crime types reported being auto theft (35 percent). There are a relatively low number of violent crimes such as carjackings (11, or 4 percent in  2023). However, these incidents can be horrific and have a great impact on the perception of safety in Bolton Hill. To address these concerns, Maj. Preston has, subject to staff availability, mandated a patrol car in the Bolton Hill area, particularly for the midnight shift.

Other suggestions by the major for reducing crime in Bolton Hill are for residents to be constantly aware of their situation and what they see happening. Do not walk around unaware with your attention focused on your cellphone. Communicate with your neighbors about what you see and tell them of any unusual  or suspicious activity. Tell your neighbors when you are going away, coming home late or loading or unloading lots of items from your vehicle. Protect each other.

She stressed the need for better lighting and urged people to leave porch and front and backyard lights on at night, and be sure to keep the doors to your home and your vehicles locked. Do not leave items visible in your car. Do not walk with your arms full of items so that you are unable to react to sudden activity.

The major’s advice: “If you see or hear unusual activity, such as unknown people sitting in a parked car for a long time, or a car or a group of people continuing to cruise or circle around the block, do not hesitate to call 911 and report the activity to the police and allow the police to check out the activity. Do not act on your own or as a vigilante. If you have any information with regards to a crime, do not hesitate to contact Metro Crime Stoppers.”

Maj. Preston agreed to work closely with the recently formed BHCA safety and security task force. She has also agreed to meet with other organizations that provide security services within or adjacent to Bolton Hill (Midtown, MICA and the University of Baltimore) to determine how security patrols can better provide enhanced coordination and security.

Anyone can attend the monthly commander’s meeting held on the third Tuesday of each month in person or via Zoom from 7 to 8 p.m. The in-person meeting is held at western district headquarters at 1034 N. Mount Street. The Zoom meeting number is 972 7995 4248 and the passcode is 899 401.