An angry Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ordered the police yesterday to step up patrols around Baltimore's playgrounds and schoolyards in an attempt to stop drug dealers from forcing young boys and girls to help them in their illegal trade.
The mayor's action, taken during an impromptu meeting with Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods, followed the arrest Wednesday of a 10-year-old East Baltimore youth who was found playing on a swing set with four vials of cocaine hidden in his socks.
The boy said he had been forced to hide the drugs by two 15-year-olds who were dealing drugs nearby.
"The mayor was outraged by the 10-year-old who said he had been intimidated," said Clinton R. Coleman, Mr. Schmoke's press secretary.
Mr. Coleman said Commissioner Woods will issue a formal order Monday directing the police to increase patrols around playgrounds and schoolyards and to keep an eye out for young children in the company of older youths.
According to Mr. Coleman, the mayor views the arrest of the 10-year-old on Wednesday and that of an 11-year-old a week earlier to be
an ominous sign that younger children are entering the drug trade.
"If we don't change our strategy or get serious about the war [on drugs], more and more young people are going to fall victim to the drug trade," Mr. Coleman said. He declined to elaborate on other strategies City Hall might be contemplating.
In the most recent case, the 10-year-old told police he had been threatened by two teen-agers and forced to hold their drugs while they tried to make sales. "They do this all the time on the playgrounds," the youngster told a reporter for The Sun.
The boy was carrying four pink-topped vials of cocaine at the time, as well as a small amount of cash.
The situation was different in the case of the 11-year-old, who was arrested May 2. That youngster was selling drugs himself, according to the police, and the boy later said he had been doing it for the money.
Dennis S. Hill, a police spokesman, said officers will be instructed to keep watch around playgrounds and schoolyards for activity that would indicate youngsters were being intimidated or threatened.
For instance, officers will make sure that teen-agers playing on the basketball courts are of comparable age and that they are not mingling with children on swings, seesaws and other equipment intended for smaller youngsters.
"They're going to have to use some judgment according to what they see," Mr. Hill said of the officers.