Prostitution-free zones attract little support

March 16, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Glenn Small contributed to this article.

Prostitution on Pulaski Highway and a shooting in October of a police officer on the roadway sparked two Baltimore County Council members to offer remedying legislation.

But the message at a council work session yesterday was, "Thanks, but no thanks." After a long discussion, it was clear that neither measure -- a bill to create prostitution-free zones and a resolution to require police officers to wear bulletproof vests -- had enough votes to pass at Monday night's formal meeting.

"We don't need constant resolutions," county Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly told the council.

Councilman Donald C. Mason wants all police officers to wear bulletproof vests to avoid the fate of Officer James E. Beck, who wasn't wearing one when he was shot and wounded Oct. 31 while investigating a prostitution-related robbery.

Prostitution problems along the highway just east of the city line prompted Essex Councilman Vincent J. Gardina to push a bill that would allow the police to publicize certain areas as "prostitution-free zones."

The administration of Executive Roger B. Hayden opposes the Gardina bill because it would give police no new power and would anger citizens worried about their neighborhoods becoming stigmatized, Mr. Kelly said.

The administration plans to introduce Monday a bill to allow police to padlock motels that cater to prostitutes and to close other places after two drug or gambling convictions in 24 months and a public hearing.

Mr. Gardina's bill also faced strong opposition yesterday from other council members and police.

Mr. Kelly said the Police Department began a high-level review of ways to get more officers to wear the protective vests after Officer Beck was shot.

Mr. Mason's attempt at show-and-tell, including wearing a vest, failed to impress administration officials or council members. His resolution would direct the police chief to tell officers when to wear their vests and would penalize those who failed to wear them with loss of pay.

The Dundalk Democrat also donned protective equipment of the kind worn by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. linemen and by Bethlehem Steel Corp. workers to show that uncomfortable equipment is worn for safety in other professions.

Col. Donald L. Shinnamon said the department doesn't want to force officers to wear the vests and is worried about trying to punish those who don't. No one could inspect officers once they left roll call, he said, and the department wouldn't be eager to punish an officer who was shot not wearing a vest.

"I wouldn't want to be the one to present Jim Beck with a bill for one week's pay," Councilman Melvin G. Mintz said.

Lt. Timothy Caslin, president of Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, said the main reason officers don't wear the vests is that they are uncomfortable.

"I know of a lot of people who want to wear a vest but just can't wear this [standard issue] vest," he said.

All officers will be remeasured this year to make sure the vests fit properly, Capt. George M. Harvey said. He said poor fit is the main reason for complaints.

Mr. Mason distributed a county auditor's accounting of Officer Beck's medical expenses, which are estimated at $621,000.

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