Troopers leave, dealers back at housing complex Pilot project had cut Newtowne crime

November 17, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

It is business as usual for the hooligans and drug dealers who call Newtowne 20 their turf.

Less than two weeks after state police ended round-the-clock patrols of the drug-plagued public housing complex in Annapolis, residents say illegal activities are flourishing again.

"When the state boys left, they just started having a good time all over again," said resident Marion Eades, adding that she has heard random gunfire in the neighborhood for the first time since 31 state troopers swept in on Sept. 28.

"It was peaceful and quiet when [the state police] were here. I wish they could have stayed longer."

But the state police never intended to stay there forever. Born out of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's crime summit last May, Operation People is an attempt to give drug-plagued communities a respite from violence as well as give them the education and tools to reclaim the streets from drug dealers.

Newtowne 20 and the adjacent Woodside Gardens apartments were the first communities in the state targeted by the program. The five-week pilot, which cost $80,000, was paid for by state police, who hope to sweep into another troubled neighborhood by the end of November.

30 arrests

Undercover troopers kicked off Operation People with 30 drug arrests in early September. On Sept. 28, 31 uniformed troopers set up a mobile command post in the parking lot of Woodside Gardens and began 24-hour foot patrols, the first in state police history.

Police, residents and officials with the Annapolis Housing Authority, which manages Newtowne 20, agree that crime plummeted during the five weeks the troopers walked the beat.

During that time, other state agencies set up job and health fairs for the residents and cleaned out debris and trash that had accumulated along the street and in nearby woods.

"The hope is if you give the folks a taste of better conditions, they will have a little more stake in keeping it that way," said Lt. Gary Simpson of the Annapolis police.

Citizens' patrol

The city police helped the residents set up a neighborhood watch crime prevention program and a citizens' patrol, though interest in the patrol quickly waned and membership dwindled from about 20 to three.

Residents haven't embraced the citizens' patrol because residents are still afraid of being shot, said Keith Butler, a resident of Woodside Gardens who organized the now-defunct

patrol three weeks ago. His neighbors are reporting suspicious activity to the police "from inside the safety of their homes, but they aren't standing on the street corners, letting their presence be known," he said.

Just the involvement in the neighborhood watch program has long-time resident Mary Hunt encouraged. "More people are coming out of their homes, getting involved and getting to know more of their neighbors than before," said Ms. Hunt, a resident of Woodside Gardens for 20 years.

'Not as afraid'

"I used to be fearful to go out of my house after dark. Now I'm not as afraid, though I'm still a little leery."

Now that the state troopers have withdrawn, only a sustained vigil by residents will keep the drug dealers out, said Annapolis Police Chief Harold Robbins.

"It's going to take some time," agreed Capt. Earl Dennis, commander of the State Police Criminal Intelligence Division. "You can't get discouraged if people show some interest initially and then interest drops off. You have to keep at it and in time, it will catch on."

The state police will continue random foot patrols as well to keep the drug dealers off balance, he said. Troopers have returned twice, including this past weekend, since the contingent pulled out Nov. 3.

Foot patrols

The city police also have stepped up patrols, cracking down on loiterers. And the five-man Community Oriented Policing unit is conducting its own foot patrols in the area, Lieutenant Simpson said.

Foot patrols by the troopers made an impression on residents, who in the past complained that city police cruised through the community in patrol cars and rarely spent any time there.

"The state [troopers] were talking to the neighborhood boys, playing ball with them, meeting the young kids coming off the school bus," Ms. Eades said. "It seems like they are interested in the neighborhood."

Undercover

By contrast, Ms. Eades said, city police acted like they were "scared of the boys."

State Police officials declined to say where the 31-trooper unit next will set up its mobile headquarters. Undercover troopers may already be there scouting the terrain for the next community and officials do not want to tip off the drug dealers.

"We want to be able to remove the criminal activity," said state police spokesman Michael McKelvin. "Just moving in and having them scurrying somewhere else won't do."

Annapolis Housing Authority officials are cautiously optimistic that Operation People will make a difference.

"We've had virtually no incidents since they [State Police] moved out," said housing authority executive director Harold Greene. "But we aren't fooled by that. We'd be naive to think that after a show of force the drug dealers wouldn't come back when they thought it was safe."

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