Zone Rangers


October 26, 1991|By GARLAND L.THOMPSON

As Nebraska marks the outline of a locomotive on the map of the United States, so Baltimore's Eastern Police District looks like a locomotive on the city's map. The similarity ends there, however. The locomotive operating between the boundaries of Guilford, 25th Street, Sinclair Lane, Erdman Avenue, Monument and Madison is headed downhill: joblessness, poverty, hopelessness, drugs. Sometimes, it leads to murder.

Where Anthony Jones, the 18-year-old recently charged as the city's youngest ''kingpin'' held sway, the direction regularly led to horrifying results. A teen-age girl killed when a gun went off in the hands of a young friend in a house she was visiting. Clashes between rival drug gangs, with shootings -- 209 this year -- and beatings of weaker rivals, followed by dousing with water and dusting with flour, a new form of tarring and feathering.

''It's a whole different culture out there,'' says Edward Bochniak, veteran policemen who fights the drug war as part of a special unit. ''What we think of as normal moral standards don't mean anything to [drug traders and their customers]. They have a morality, but it's a drug morality. It's different. And they see themselves as being in business, with advertising, marketing -- they even have sale days'' during the slow weeks when their customers, many of whom depend on public assistance, have no money.

hTC But not everyone has joined the drug subculture. In the same district are families struggling to get their children started on the road to a better future; neighbors who grew up together and still look out for one another; successful businesses run by local residents who stayed close by; churches whose parishioners are determined to end the chaos of the streets. And the Oliver Community Association, led by the redoubtable Hilton Bostick.

Also involved, fighting night and day to halt the drug locomotive, are Ed Bochniak and his fellows, the ''Zone Rangers.'' Operating out of a cramped second-floor office, the Rangers busted Anthony Jones and his youthful gang in front of waiting TV cameras, quieting things in a neighborhood grown almost inured to violence. Not too far from where Anthony got new cuff links, an old woman, partially crippled, was found murdered in her home.

According to Sun reporter S.M. Khalid, who covers the Rangers, the unit also collared Billy Guy, a New York-based kingpin whose drug connections and flamboyant style could have been the model for ''New Jack City.'' Guy, who bought fur coats for his eight girlfriends and his mother and took chauffeured limousines to Manhattan, had $42,000 worth of jewelry and $5,000 in cash when busted. He's doing 20 with no parole now -- an object lesson for admirers of his brief flash -- and other young toughs are on the target list.

Maj. Alvin A. Winkler, district commander, says the zoning idea stems from the immensity of the drug problem. When he took command in 1988, he reorganized 14 district ''posts'' into seven patrol zones, assigning each to a single member of its elite drug unit. Each Ranger now probes all drug activity in a zone, developing contacts and building intelligence as well as putting the pinch on dealers. An eighth Ranger probes all drug shootings, working with the ''Zonie'' whose case it involves.

It drastically changed the handling of crimes, Major Winkler says. Instead of trying to learn the entire district, each officer can concentrate on a particular area, sharing tips when a dealer or group shifts.

Officer Bochniak, who is white, says he often meets racial slurs patrolling the zones. Antonio Williams, who grew up in East Baltimore and sometimes arrests relatives and friends, gets even worse. But Major Winkler, who also grew up there, thinks most people were glad to see one of their own in uniform.

It won't be easy, he said, but the Anthonys and the Billy Guys can be stopped. A staggering number of calls go in to police hotlines -- 500 a day in the District -- aiding the 2,500 drug busts his officers made last year, showing that most people want an end to the lawlessness.

''The people have the power to stop this,'' he said. ''The people know who's doing drugs. No outsider can really move into a neighborhood and start selling drugs. People will call the police. But it's the people who see their neighbor or their neighbor's son or grandson selling drugs and don't want to get involved. They may not want their neighbors, whom they grew up with, getting after them for informing. When we overcome that, when those people do get involved, it will be stopped.''

That's the tenet of ''The Winnable War: A Community Guide to Eradicating Street Drug Markets,'' by the Washington-based American Alliance for Rights and Responsibilities. FBI Uniform Crime Reports, cited by Major Winkler, and the Justice Department's recent National Crime Victim Survey show crime is going down. But as ''The Winnable War'' says, street drug dealing concentrates violence and lawlessness, exacerbating the social ills and convincing people things are worse than they actually are.

It can be fought, by the people and the police working together, Major Winkler says. He's right. And his Zone Rangers bring a new strength to the people's side.

Garland L.Thompson writes editorials for The Sun.


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