Brooms in hand, communities try to sweep crime from their streets SHATTERED SECURITY

September 21, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

When the drug dealers began to outnumber the residents in the 1200 block of N. Caroline St., Robert Stokes got out his broom and he urged his neighbors to do the same.

With push brooms and trash cans, Mr. Stokes and his neighbors made a clean sweep of several blocks of their East Baltimore community.

The way Mr. Stokes figured it, the drug dealers would not remain in a neighborhood where the residents had banded together for a cleanup. He was right -- the drug dealers left.

Across the city, citizens like Mr. Stokes have joined forces to fight crime. In some cases, the grass roots efforts have been sparked by the perception that the Police Department is not doing enough to protect neighborhoods.

Other citizen crime fighters say they are trying to work with the department, which has been hit with budget cuts and overwhelmed by a rising tide of street crime.

A few ideas

In some cases, neighborhood residents have come up with some unusual yet effective ways to fight crime. For example:

* Residents in West Baltimore's Walbrook neighborhood illuminate blue porch lights to let dealers and addicts know that illicit drug activity will be reported to police.

* Some residents of the Flag House Courts public housing development, just east of downtown, gather daily to discuss suspicious people they observe. They give the information to police.

* At several senior citizens' buildings in the city, groups of Muslims patrol both inside and outside the buildings to protect the elderly residents from muggers, burglars and other dangers. One resident at the Maryland Avenue Apartments at 22nd Street and Maryland Avenue calls the Muslim patrols a "security blanket."

In Mr. Stokes' neighborhood, the residents cleaned sidewalks and gutters. They also planted flowers and painted porches. And the dealers became worried that their outdoor drug stashes would fall victim to the neighborhood's brooms.

"They're afraid that we might clean up and throw away some of the drugs they've got hidden all around there," Mr. Stokes said. "And that's their money."

'A first step'

Neighborhood residents also let the dealers know they were no longer welcome and told addicts where they could seek counseling and treatment.

"Even now, if they come and sit on the steps, we tell them respectfully that they can't sit there anymore," said Mr. Stokes. "It's a first step. They know what we're trying to do to the block and they respect that. We asked them that if they needed help, we know where they could go. Everything has to be done respectfully to them, but we had to get them out of here. We didn't want them to get too comfortable here."

Councilman Lawrence Bell, D-4th, wants to see Muslim patrols in more neighborhoods throughout the city. In addition to providing safety, the polite, neatly dressed Muslims would serve as role models for the black men in the community.

"They're not going to come in and save the people, but they can help establish community patrol groups and take away some of the fear people have," said Mr. Bell, whose district is in West Baltimore. "They can come in and counter the negative images and take the streets back."

Police officials said the department supports the efforts of citizen crime prevention, particularly those that have block patrols.

Community policing

The grass-roots efforts that have already begun go hand-in-hand with community policing, a plan to put foot patrol officers back into neighborhoods. The department is experimenting with community policing on a limited basis in East and West Baltimore. This kind of policing is based on a close relationship between police and neighborhood residents.

Agent Linda Rodriguez described community policing as "the empowerment of citizens in the neighborhood working in partnership with the Police Department to affect crime."

Sgt. Robert Lassahn of the police crime resistance unit said citizen block-patrol groups have proven to be an effective deterrent to crime.

"Some of [the citizens' groups] have been formed out of frustration [with the rising crime]. We can't be everywhere at once," Sergeant Lassahn said."

In Parkview -- a West Baltimore neighborhood bounded by Reisterstown Road, Gwynns Falls Parkway, Auchentoroly Terrace and Fulton Avenue -- residents patrol with walkie-talkies. They report drug dealing and suspicious activity to the police.

While the department supports citizen patrols, it does not advocate vigilantism, said Sgt. Larry Lewis, also assigned to the crime resistance unit.

"We don't want them trying to lock anybody up. Enforcement is (( our responsibility," Sergeant Lewis said.

Helping police

Mr. Stokes said his group is trying to help the police rather than trying to replace them.

"When the police leave, the problem is still there. They're [police officers] doing all they can, but there's not enough police out there," Mr. Stokes said.

He said he is satisfied with the police presence in the area but that more needs to be done.

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