For years, Carrie Dickerson has prayed that the shootings, drug-dealing and public drinking would end and that the kids and old folks would come out at night once again to reclaim their Annapolis neighborhood.
Yesterday, the 66-year-old stood in the sunshine at Harbour House, the city's largest public housing complex, and gave thanks. Her prayers, she said, had been answered, with the opening of a new, permanent satellite police station.
"We were fed up. It's about time we clean up the whole act. And now, at last, we're going to do that," said Dickerson, president of the anti-drug Planning Action Committee for Harbour House and the neighboring Eastport Terrace public housing communities.
"We got a major problem here, but we're going to lick it because we're going to work together until we do."
Other residents joined Dickerson in rejoicing yesterday as Annapolis Housing Authority and police officials opened the satellite station in a converted basement apartment.
Elderly residents relished the idea of leaving their houses without constantly worrying about getting mugged or harassed. Mothers looked forward to letting their kids play outside again. Police and elected officials heralded the beginning of a new, better understanding between police and residents, with cooperation replacing mistrust.
The satellite office is designed to improve often-strained relations between police and residents while fighting drug dealers on their own turf. While the satellite formally opened yesterday, police won't move in until tomorrow, after workers complete finishing touches.
At least two city police officers will work out of the satellite office daily, walking beats or cruising the grounds in a housing authority golf cart, said Sgt. William Powell, who is serving as the satellite's commanding officer.
Harold Greene, the housing authority's executive director, came up with the idea for the Annapolis satellite, which is based on a similar and successful effort to combat drugs and improve community relations in Reno, Nev.
"This is by no means going to solvethe drug problem in Annapolis or in public housing," Greene said.
"But what it will do is reassure residents that we're serious about solving the drug problems. And that's a big step toward getting theircooperation."
A federal grant will cover the $100,000 annual costfor equipment and two police officers.
Police and housing authority officials said they would like to open similar satellite police offices in other public housing communities but would wait at least a few months to measure the success of the Harbour House station.
Though assigned at Harbour House, officers will patrol public housing communities throughout the city, Powell said.
Powell said that at least two officers would work out of the satellite full-time "when the criminal element is out there." Their exact shifts have yet to be determined, he said.
Amid widespread rumors of a potential turf war between rival drug dealers competing for Annapolis markets, Powell said the satellite should help prevent bloodshed that has sporadicallyplagued public housing in recent years.
"With the increased police presence, I think members of the criminal element will think twice about starting a shooting war," Powell said.
"But," he added, "our main goal is to allow the residents of public housing to get to know the police, establish contacts and relationships and build more trust. Ninety percent of them are hard-working, law-abiding citizens."
Alderman Carl O. Snowden, who also attended yesterday's opening, said mistrust and a perception of police racism among residents has hampered efforts to combat drugs and other crime.
"What we desperately need now is the support of residents, and this is a significant step inthat direction," Snowden said.
Added Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins: "I think the real significant thing is it shows residents that the police really do care about them."
"What we desperately need now is thesupport of residents, and this is a significant step in that direction," Snowden said.