ECHO gives sweeping response to problems at Lafayette Courts

August 25, 1993|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,Staff Writer

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City expanded its maintenance and security sweeps beyond Flag House Courts yesterday, tackling another public housing complex, Lafayette Courts in East Baltimore.

For the fourth time in two months, about 350 maintenance workers, counselors and police were dispatched to a Housing Authority high-rise as part of the Extraordinary Comprehensive Housekeeping Operation (ECHO). Yesterday, they converged on an 11-story building at 125 N. Colvin St. in Lafayette Courts, the city's oldest public housing complex. Lafayette Courts was built in 1955.

Housing Authority officials hope ECHO will improve security and living conditions in the targeted buildings. During the sweeps, police officers rounded up squatters and drug dealers and maintenance workers planted flowers and made repairs. Counselors provided tenants with information in a variety of areas ranging from family matters to health services.

"This is the first step in creating a climate for success at Lafayette Courts," said Samuel B. Little, the Housing Authority's assistant director. "We plan to continue until all six [high-rise buildings] are completed."

Mr. Little said he could not pinpoint a date for the next sweep, but he suggested that it might come soon.

"The smaller the gap between the sweeps, the more effective the sweeps are," he said.

Although work crews cleaned and applied paint to the building's stairwells last week, ECHO conducted a full-fledged assault beginning 10 a.m. yesterday that lasted all day.

The exterior and interior of the building were cleaned, maintenance work orders executed, new security doors and a metal detector were installed and photo identification cards were issued to residents.

Police said one man was arrested during the sweep.

Charnita K. Brooks, a 21-year-old resident of the high-rise for 14 months, said the sweeps are only partially effective.

"As they clean a building, drugs go into another one," said Ms. Brooks, the mother of four children.

Daniel P. Henson III, the executive director of the Housing Authority, praised ECHO as an effective short-term solution in the fight against crime and grime.

"Eventually, we're going to get all the wrongdoers out of all our buildings," he said.

He said the Housing Authority has compared figures from June 1992 with June 1993 -- when ECHO was launched -- for the Flag House Courts complex and has discovered a 65 percent drop in crime and a 95 percent drop in work order requests.

"There were 231 incidents of crime reported in June 1992 [at Flag House] and only 71 in June 1993. Thirty-five of these required no police intervention at all," Mr. Henson said. "I believe the residents credit ECHO."

The previous sweeps all took place at the three high-rise buildings at the Flag House Courts public housing complex at a cost of $200,000 for each sweep.

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