Police hit tough East Baltimore streets to gain foothold Goal is closer ties with residents

April 19, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

Officer Harold Wertz spots the first sign of trouble -- a syringe sticking out of a broken vinyl chair -- as he creeps into the vacant house.

Then a man runs down the staircase from the second floor, ignores Officer Wertz's order to stop and flees through the front door onto Worsley Street. The officer's partner, Kurosh Jahromi, draws his revolver and calls for anyone else to come downstairs.

The ceiling creaks and a tall, thin, sleepy-looking man in a Towson State University football jacket comes down the steps slowly.

It is dusk on Saturday, and the uniformed partners -- assigned as community policing officers -- have been on foot patrol for nearly six hours in an East Baltimore community notorious for drugs and crime.

Officer Jahromi begins the interrogation.

"Do you have any I.D.?"

"No."

"Do you know that you're trespassing?"

"No."

"Do you know that this is not your house?"

"No."

The man's hands are locked above his head and he is pinned

against a wall. Officer Jahromi looks around the room and sees many used needles scattered on the floor amid other debris. A light breeze flowing through open windows does little to cut the strong smell of urine.

"Do you have any needles on you?" the officer continues.

"No."

"Do you have any drugs?"

"No."

/# The man is searched and allowed

to leave. He promises that he won't come back to the house. The officers are skeptical. Officer Jahromi surveys the weak, deteriorating floors and trash.

"Can you imagine what kind of tragedy we're dealing with if a kid comes in here and falls through [the floor]?" he asks. He leaves, careful to avoid stepping on syringes.

Less than a year ago, Officer Jahromi was in the police training academy, eager to hit the streets and optimistic about making an impact on crime.

Now his beat is a hotbed of activity, an area where drug dealers lurk menacingly on street corners they consider their own -- and a neighborhood where 12 people were shot on April 10 during a dice game.

Officer Jahromi usually patrols alone.

"I want to know people here and make the good people feel

comfortable about living here," Officer Jahromi says while he walks his beat -- about two square miles of high-crime turf. "The junkies don't like us because we break up what they're doing and it's defeating their purpose. But I'm going to do it."

As the officers patrol Greenmount Avenue near North Avenue, a teen-ager on a motorbike roars by and pulls a wheelie. The unlicensed dirt bike is illegal on city streets, and the youth knows it.

He also knows the officers can't catch him, and sticks out his tongue as he races by again.

"I'm not going to make a fool out of myself by trying to catch him," Officer Jahromi says. "I don't know what his problem is. He could be involved in drugs, he could be just teasing us."

Begun in February, the experimental Eastern District community policing effort is designed to strengthen relationships with residents and help solve problems. Through their work in the program, Officers Jahromi and Wertz have become friends with many of the residents.

On Worsley Street, a narrow passageway where many of the houses are boarded, a 38-year-old woman near the syringe-strewn vacant house stops to chat.

She says that she often sees junkies enter the house, and that they leave syringes in the alley and on the front sidewalk where children play.

And she rolls up her sleeves to display several mostly healed "tracks" -- the telltale bruises from injecting drugs. She says she is a recovering addict who has been "almost" drug-free for

several months -- when she's not "cheating."

"You've got a friend with me, and you shouldn't give up," Officer Jahromi says. "When you get the urge, call me." He writes his pager number on a piece of paper and gives it to her.

The officers also have learned many of the players who gather on the street corners and alleys, as well as their drug-dealing games -- like the quick getaway at the first sight of police.

"They clear and someone will always go to a phone and call the next corner to tell them that 'Five-O' is coming," Officer Wertz says. "The minute we're gone, of course, they come back."

The officers know many of the faces. Some have been arrested, and the police have put together "profile sheets" on others who loiter there.

Officer Jahromi also likes to have fun. As he walks on Greenmount Avenue near 23rd Street, he sees a man he knows in a group sitting on steps across the street. He says the man has a history of dealing drugs.

"Yo Tim," the officer shouts, and waves frantically at him. "How you doing, man?"

Embarrassed, the man turns and walks away. His friends suspiciously eye him.

"You don't know me," the man says.

"Yo Tim, it's me, man," Officer Jahromi says. "What up?"

"You don't know me," the man insists, now almost a block away and shouting back to the policeman.

Officer Jahromi laughs. Mission accomplished. He wanted to clear loiterers who are suspected of drug involvement from the area, and his "buddy game" accomplished it.

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