Residents welcome stepped-up patrols

March 15, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

At a dim street corner in downtown Annapolis, four men share a bottle of malt liquor wrapped in a paper bag and ignore the skinny woman arguing with a pusher over her supply of crack cocaine.

It's a typical evening at Clay and West Washington streets, a corner long known for drug activity and prostitution, but increasingly the scene of violence.

Three weeks ago, a decorated Annapolis police veteran was wounded in a drug raid on an apartment at Town Pines Court, a low-income housing complex on the corner. Daryl LaMonte Jones, 20, of Bowie, is being held in that assault.

The shooting came after months in which neighbors complained about a tougher crowd scuffling there. Parents have forbidden their children from visiting the teen center. And government workers say they're afraid to walk the one block from the Arundel Center to the garage on that corner after dark.

The city police department has responded by stepping up patrols in the area and opening a satellite office at Helping Hand, a homeless shelter on Clay Street, a week after the shooting.

Elected officials have set up a neighborhood meeting for March 27.

Meanwhile, residents and community leaders, shaken by the attack on police in the same apartment complex in which a man was killed last July, have renewed their call for change.

"There are really systemic problems in the neighborhood," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, who met with a group of community leaders after the shooting. "There's poverty. I might even add, abject poverty. There's the need for drug treatment and alcoholism treatment programs. There's the need for real jobs."

County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, a Democrat who represents Annapolis, agreed. She said she's been offered drugs twice while walking from the parking garage on Clay Street to the Arundel Center.

"This has been going on for 12 years, and it's just terrible," Ms. Lamb said. "I think there has to be a major initiative."

For years, men have gathered each afternoon outside the old grocery store on the corner just to pass the time of day with friends beneath the broken Coca-Cola sign. But the corner also is a hangout for drug addicts, dealers and prostitutes.

Officer William "Ralph" Pumphrey began walking a regular beat out of the satellite office a week ago. A few of the men at the corner jeered his arrival, but most of the residents were excited by the prospect of frequent patrols.

"Since the police have been here, there's hardly any drug dealing going on," said Edgar Trotter, the house manager at Helping Hand. "Usually, at this time of day, you'd see four or five people hanging out at the picket fence."

By most accounts, the level of violence in the Clay Street corridor has increased in the last six months.

Mr. Trotter recalled sitting at his desk one day last summer and glancing up to see a man bash another over the head with a baseball bat.

He called the police, as he did on numerous occasions when he witnessed someone passing over a rock of crack or a packet of heroin.

In July, two men were seen arguing with 21-year-old Rudolph C. Holland over drugs at the corner. A few hours later, Mr. Holland was found shot to death on a landing at Town Pines Court, the first murder in Annapolis in a year.

Street crime and sporadic fights with broken bottles have been more common since then.

Says a woman, 78, who lives a few houses down from the corner, "It ain't getting better -- there's no use lying about it." She has lived on Washington Street most of her life.

So has her neighbor, a 71-year-old woman, who tells Officer Pumphrey that they both have to lock all the doors and windows at night. Both were afraid to give their names.

Twenty-five years ago, the corner of Clay and West Washington streets was a thriving area with small shops and a movie theater frequented by mostly black residents. But the area declined with the gentrification of Annapolis and the development of malls on the outskirts of the city.

The Rev. Charles Simms, who works with teen-agers in the neighborhood, told Officer Pumphrey one day last week that he believes tougher laws to discourage loitering and regular police patrols will help solve some problems.

"It's never until there's a crisis that some action is taken," he complained. But he also said, "I really think that having an officer in the community is effective. They stop hanging around and drinking on the corners."

So far, Officer Pumphrey and the other two police officers working out of the satellite station have succeeded on a small scale in reducing some of the loitering and violence. But they agree with elected officials that an all-out effort is needed to rid the corner of drug activity and crime.

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