Neighborhood Police Make Harbour House Safe Again

August 25, 1991|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff writer

Marie Tasker sat on a lawn chair outside her apartment on a cool summer evening and savored that small luxury.

At last, the 47-year-old wasn't afraid of her own neighborhood at night.

For most of her six years living at Harbour House, Annapolis' largest public housing development, she knew better than to venture outside at night.

"The drug dealers were everywhere, on every corner,"she said. "They had control of all this area around here. You could look out the window nights and see them there. You could see 'em dealing, flashing their guns, shooting their guns. I've seen people shot right on the street more than a couple times."

The 279-unit complex has long been notorious for crack houses, open-air drug markets andviolence. But this summer, with the opening of a new satellite police station in Harbour House, the community has undergone a radical transformation.

Where drug dealers once plied their trade, elderly residents chatted on lawns last week, while mothers pushed babies in strollers. A woman swept the stoop outside her building; children tossed a football.

"It's like a whole different place now," said Norma Nutter, a 31-year-old who lives at Harbour House with her two sons.

"It's so peaceful," she said as her 2-year-old, Jawaun, played in the sand near her apartment. "You can just sit outside and you don't have to be looking around the corner every minute, worrying about who might be there."

By all accounts, the satellite police station, opened in early June, has gone a long way toward ridding the community of open drug dealing, shifting control of the streets back to residents and improving often-strained relations between residents and police.

Two city police officers work regularly out of the station, a converted basement apartment and storage area, walking beats or cruising the grounds in a golf cart. Nine other officers, from the citywideCommunity Oriented Police Squad, also are headquartered at the station.

Harold S. Greene, executive director of the Annapolis Housing Authority, came up with the idea for the satellite office, patterned after a similar, highly successful effort to combat drugs and improvecommunity-police relations in Reno, Nev. public housing.

It's a back-to-basics approach, and Greene believes it's the best way to fight drug dealers on their turf.

"In cities everywhere, the problems really began when police came off the street and got into their patrol cars," Greene said. "The police have to be an integral part of the community. It can't be 'us and them.' That just won't work."

In the past, residents mistrusted police and wouldn't cooperate with anti-drug efforts out of fear that dealers would retaliate.

But that's changing.

"We're really starting to form that partnership with thecommunity where residents realize that they can take back their streets," said Sgt. William Powell, who supervises the satellite station.

Powell says residents regularly show up at the station, which includes a community room complete with couch and television, to offer information on drug dealing or to just sit and chat with officers. Police there also have begun referring drug users to counseling or area clergy for help.

The housing authority used a $250,000 federal grant to create the substation and to pay the salaries of the two officers who patrol Harbour House and neighboring Eastport Terrace.

The renewable "drug-elimination" grant, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, footed two other bills as well: one for 250 new high-powered lights designed to improve security at Harbour House, the other for a drug counselor who works full time at a community recreation center.

Greene said he hopes to expand the community policing idea nextyear to other public housing communities beset by drugs, including Robinwood and Newtowne 20. But he said housing officials haven't decided whether to open satellite stations or simply add regularfoot patrol officers assigned beats in other communities.

The Harbour House program, he said, has far exceeded expectations and will remain open.

"It was like Dodge City here this time last year," Greene said. "We had an average of at least one shooting a week. People didn't get killed all the time, but that was just dumb luck."

Thissummer, by contrast, no shootings have occurred in Harbour House -- proof, Greene says, that community-based policing works.

Peggy McGowan would agree.

The 60-year-old, who has lived at Harbour House 15 years, paused as she walked home with a bag of groceries last week, took a look around and smiled.

"You don't see all that drugs anddrinking nonsense out here anymore, and you don't have to worry about whether you're safe on your streets anymore," she said.

"We hopethe police never leave. They give us pride back. It's a community here now. It used to be just a housing project before."

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