Housing police chief picked Bunch headed mayor's security

March 03, 1993|By David Michael Ettlin and Melody Simmons | David Michael Ettlin and Melody Simmons,Staff Writers

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's security chief -- a veteran police lieutenant with extensive experience as a narcotics investigator -- has been selected from a group of six finalists to head the Housing Authority of Baltimore City's police force.

Lt. Hezekiah Bunch will become "Chief" Bunch in two weeks, but it remained uncertain yesterday whether he will be taking a leave from the Police Department or retiring with a pension from his current $45,000-a-year job.

The 43-year-old lieutenant said such details -- even his salary as director of the housing agency police force -- were still being negotiated. William H. Matthews Jr., the authority's former police chief who resigned in December to become a consultant in Washington, was paid about $68,000.

More important, Lieutenant Bunch said, was his eagerness to begin work improving security and fighting drug trafficking in the city's 18,300 public housing units.

"I've done a lot of traveling around and seen [blighted] housing projects in other states and other countries," he said. "I truly don't want to see Baltimore's housing deteriorate to those levels."

The housing police force was formed five years ago and operates on a $6 million annual budget funded mainly through federal community development block grants. Its 50 officers -- soon to be increased to 62 -- spend most of their time patrolling the city's 18 high-rise buildings, which are infested with drug dealing and violent crime.

In August, two Housing Authority police officers and eight city police officers were pinned down by sniper fire at the Flag House Courts complex near Little Italy in East Baltimore. They were rescued after a five-hour standoff by an armored personnel carrier borrowed from the Prince George's County police.

On Sept. 18, city Police Officer James E. Young Jr. was shot and critically wounded while attempting to make a drug arrest at a Flag House high rise, and two days later some residents of the George P. Murphy Homes in West Baltimore were angered when a bystander there was wounded by city officers shooting at a fleeing suspect.

The crime problem in the high rises prompted the Housing Authority to install computer-operated turnstiles at building entrances to curb trespassing, but Lieutenant Bunch said one of his first moves may be to remove them.

The lieutenant, who advocates involvement by the residents in police efforts to fight crime, said the turnstiles will be studied for their effectiveness. But they may be removed because the residents detest them, he said.

Lieutenant Bunch grew up in the Sandtown neighborhood of West Baltimore and dropped out of Carver High School in the 10th grade in 1965 to help support his family. He served two years in the Army and earned his high school equivalency at Fort Holabird.

In 1971, he joined the Police Department and was first assigned to patrols and high crime response in the Tactical Section. He was detailed on several occasions to the police STOP squad, which had narcotics enforcement in public housing as a primary purpose.

Later, in the Northern District, assignments included patrol posts in Hampden and, in April 1973, a section of Pimlico Road near the spot where a police officer had been killed only a week earlier.

He later had assignments, as a sergeant, as a community relations officer and shift supervisor at the Southwestern District, and as supervisor of police personnel in the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's Baltimore task force.

Lieutenant Bunch said he began working with then-State's Attorney Schmoke in 1983, when he was assigned as commanding officer of the prosecutor's investigative unit. When Mr. Schmoke became mayor in 1987, Lieutenant Bunch moved to City Hall as head of the police Special Operations Division's executive protection unit.

In his new job, he will have a force of 62 officers under his direction and a civilian staff of 133 -- including 118 residents employed as security monitors in guard booths at the high rises.

Lieutenant Bunch said he will adopt city Police Department community-policing concepts in his direction of the public housing force, encouraging close ties between the officers and the residents.

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