Police presence alters capital housing complex Annapolis officers staff satellite station

December 21, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Not long ago, Annapolis police ventured into Harbour House only to arrest suspected drug dealers or investigate violent crimes. The 279-unit public housing complex in Eastport, the largest in the city, was notorious for crack houses, corner drug markets and open hostility toward police.

But with the opening of a satellite police station in a basement apartment there in June 1991, the community has been transformed. Residents have taken control of the streets again, and once-strained relations with police have improved.

"They're just terrific guys," said Roberta M. Johnson, a 47-year-old grandmother who wrote a letter of commendation to Annapolis Police Chief Harold Robbins after the officers visited her in the hospital. "I feel so good that they're here. It's the safeness -- and they're real involved in the community."

The mostly black neighborhood did not immediately embrace the two white police officers -- Ken Custer and Daniel A. Sereboff -- when they started at the complex earlier this year. Several residents complained to Assistant Chief Joseph S. Johnson, but he said he was "not at all worried about it.

"I knew they were very fine officers," he said. His decision has paid off, he said, with dozens of complimentary letters and phone calls.

The officers quickly endeared themselves to children in the community by handing out Popsicles and playing catch in the summer.

At the same time, they set up a series of undercover drug buys and helped the city's narcotics squad raid several apartments frequented by dealers.

But most of their efforts have been concentrated on improving relations with the residents. They chat with neighbors, help community

leaders publish a newsletter, and look after an elderly man suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Along the way, they've made new friends.

"Officer Dan, he's great," said 9-year-old Thomas Gross, who now plans to be a police officer when he grows up. "He helps me with my homework and stuff. And he wrestles with us."

Said Leola Forrester, a single mother of an 8-year-old son, "It gives me a chance to have a male role model."

Tuesday was Officer Sereboff's last day. The 22-year-old patrol officer is leaving for the county police.

Thomas clung tearfully to his legs, while Douglass Forrester kept repeating, "Don't go. Don't go." The neighbors across the hall from the satellite station cooked a farewell dinner of spare ribs and corn bread.

"I love him to death," said Estela Smith, who became friends with Officer Sereboff after passing him in the hall. "He's just like a son of mine."

Officer Custer, 36, a four-year veteran of the force, said he asked to work on the neighborhood patrol team, which is paid for with a federal housing grant.

Residents of Annapolis' other nine housing projects have asked to be included in the program if the city can get another grant.

"These are some of the best people," Officer Custer said, picking up 4-year-old Tiara Sembly and giving her a big hug. As she played with his badge, he tickled her chin with his red mustache.

Watching them, Officer Sereboff found himself promising to come back to visit.

His experience at Harbour House, he said, helped him to understand that residents of low-income housing are "people, not numbers."

"I got to see their actual struggles, the day-to-day activity they're involved with, and you get attached," he said. "You really do."

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