In Severn, Residents Take Back The Streets Citizen Patrols Try To Chase Away Drug Dealers

October 26, 1990|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Staff writer

If Lonnie Sears listens carefully, he can hear the drug dealers taunting him.

"Every once in a while, if we are finished with patrols, we can hear them on the CB monitor," the Warfield Homes resident says. "'Yo man, got the crack?' That's what they'll say. I've seen kids on bikes here with radios."

Sears is one of about 15 residents in the Severn community who have become fed up with drug dealers controlling their lives and neighborhood.

Armed only with citizen's band radios, cars and their eyes and ears, they have joined forces with county police to take back their streets.

Since May, Sears and other residents have been patrolling their neighborhood and reporting to police everything they see. Together with patrols in neighboring communities, Stillmeadows and Spring Meadows, they have provided police with almost 1,000 license numbers from suspicious vehicles. They call county police any time they see a crowd gathering or what they think could be a drug transaction.

And after five months and 498 arrests, the residents seem to have won at least one battle.

"I can drive into my parking spot and no one asks me if I want a date or if I want to buy drugs," said Sears, director of the security patrol.

"We have a few houses here that are still active," said resident Ernest Spry. "But it (the neighborhood) is getting to the point that it is livable."

But that wasn't always the case in the community that adjoins Pioneer City and is a half-mile from Meade Village, two communities off Reece Road that are known as open-air drug markets.

"When I was transferred here in July of 1989, we had a serious problem in Meade Village, Warfield and Pioneer City," said George J. Andrews, commander of the county police department's Western District. "I thought we could get a meeting together with the community leaders and get their input."

Those meetings began last December and police implemented Operation Clean Sweep last spring. The operation includes 24-hour police coverage -- a roving patrol of two officers who spend their entire shift in the neighborhood, foot patrols, K-9 officers and undercover officers.

The operation involved officers from the department's narcotics, community relations, special operations divisions and the Western District.

From May to the end of September, Andrews said, the officers made 45 arrests for distribution of drugs, 168 for possession of drugs, 18 for loitering , 85 for miscellaneous crimes, 71 traffic arrests and served 111 arrest warrants.

"It was a big joint effort," said Lt. Gary Lyle, head of the county's narcotics division. "Each section working without one another were overwhelmed by it, so we we started working together."

Although residents agree that progress has been made, they are not ready to give up patrolling their neighborhood.

"It's slow, but we are getting there," patrol member Wanel Everett said on a chilly night this week as he prepared to go on patrol with Spry.

Bright spotlights attached on some homes cut through dark shadows, discouraging people from loitering.

"If we could get everyone to turn on their porch light, it would be OK," Spry says. "But they won't do it."

A crowd of about a half-dozen people are gathered outside a home in the 8500 block of Pioneer Drive as Spry and Everett drive by in a 1979 Toyota.

"Any time they see this little yellow car," Spry says. "They know it's us."

While many of the dealers and their customers seem to have moved elsewhere to barter their wares, there are still some stragglers. The fight for the community has boiled down to a test of endurance between dealers and residents.

Spry and Everett find themselves in a staring contest with the group on the corner, waiting to see who will blink first.

"They say things, but we don't pay them no mind," Everett says.

Spry and other residents attribute the neighborhood's problems to two factors: its proximity -- a half-mile -- to Meade Village and too many absentee landlords who do not evict tenants who cause problems.

"Some of the landlords do care and they will take care of the problem right away," Spry said. "But there are some that just don't respond."

Since 1973, Spry has lived in the community, where the average town house costs about $40,000.

"Eighty percent of the people then were homeowners," he said. "In the late '70s, things started to deteriorate and people began renting out their homes."

Meade Village is a federally subsidized housing project, Warfield Homes is subsidized by the county and Stillmeadows is a private town house complex near Fort Meade.

After five months, patrol members have fine-tuned their procedures, using a personal computer to keep track of members, CB codes and work schedules.

"We have the computerized 'hot sheet'," Sears explains. "Once they see us get a license plate, they become more cautious as to what we are doing with it."

Sears and the patrol have created special code words and signals to use on the radio to make it more difficult for drug traffickers to monitor them.

So far, they have spent about $2,200 on radios, paper, hats and magnetic signs for the cars. Each patrol member pays for his own gas.

County police Officer Guy Della, who works in the crime prevention unit, helped residents start the patrols, meeting with them and providing guidelines for being the department's watchdog.

"Their goal is to reduce crime with communication between the department and the community," Della said.

And although a relative calm has settled over the neighborhood, Della emphasized that residents shouldn't let the lack of excitement stop their patrols.

"In the security patrols, if nothing is going on, then you are doing your job," he explained. "It's not always going to be exciting."

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