March police sweep shifts the drug market

April 25, 1994|By Robert Hilson | Robert Hilson,Sun Staff Writer

A month after more than 100 police officers shut down open-air drug markets in the Barclay and East Baltimore Midway neighborhoods, the area remains free of drug activity and drug-related violence, residents say.

Children play on the sidewalks where dealers had blatantly hawked their dope. Some residents sit on front steps that drug lookouts once manned, and others leave their windows open at night. The crackle of gunfire is only a memory. "Almost heaven" is one resident's description of the area.

However, less than two miles away, in communities near Preston and Bond streets and Holbrook and Hoffman streets, residents say they have seen a marked increase in drug trafficking since the police sweep.

Residents say they've noticed new faces among the junkies who now roam the area at all hours in search of drugs. And dealers, who have always prospered in the area, are more than willing to oblige.

"We're pretty desperate in the 1400 block of Bond St. now," said Candice Campbell, who has lived in the community for 44 years. "It was bad anyway. Now it's worse."

The neighborhood near Bond and Preston -- called Greenmount East -- already had severe problems with drug trafficking. Now it is flooded with addicts.

Some residents are so fed up that they openly discuss their encounters with dealers and drug abusers:

* One woman said she is so intimidated by the drug dealers and buyers lurking near her North Bond Street residence that she rTC calls for a police escort whenever she leaves her home.

* Another woman said a drug dealer told her she had "some nerve" when she asked him to move from in front of her house on Holbrook Street.

* A man said he has had to park a block from his Hoffman Street home because all the parking spaces are taken by people waiting to purchase drugs. "And this is in the middle of the day," he said.

* A woman stepped out of her North Bond Street house early one morning to see two gunmen robbing two other men. The gunmen casually looked at the woman as they continued to frisk their victims.

"What it all boils down to is that the police are shifting the drugs from one place to another," said Robert Tillman, a 32-year-old man who lives with his girlfriend near the intersection of Preston and Bond.

"They cleaned out Greenmount Avenue of all of its drugs. Fine. So their mission was successful. But how successful is it when everybody from up there come down here [to] get high?"

Police swept through the Barclay-East Baltimore Midway neighborhood on March 19 as part of "Operation Midway."

Raids at 14 houses culminated a six-week investigation in which officers obtained warrants charging 42 adults with weapons and drug offenses. The raids were aimed at getting drug offenders, particularly those with violent backgrounds, off the streets.

But that was only part of "Operation Midway." Soon after the raids the community began to be transformed: City sanitation crews swept the sidewalks and alleys and hauled away tons of debris, and wrecking crews demolished an entire block of rowhouses where drugs were used.

But more important, police have maintained a presence in the area.

"That was the key," said Shondra Allen, 35, who lives with her two children in the 500 block of E. 21st St. "The police just stayed here. They haven't left yet. That's probably the main reason the streets aren't full of drug dealers no more."

Police cars now regularly cruise the area, and an officer can usually be found somewhere along Greenmount Avenue between North Avenue and 25th Street.

Maj. Alvin A. Winkler, the Eastern District commander, said an additional foot officer and a patrol car with two officers are assigned indefinitely to the area as well as two cars from the department's tactical unit.

"We believed that if we removed the criminal element from the street, the neighborhood would be more responsive and cooperate to keep it safe and drug free," Major Winkler said. "The arrests backed a strong investigation."

The raids proved successful in crime prevention. According to police statistics, in 1993, 39 violent crimes were reported in the area from March 19 to April 15. Seven were reported during the same period this year.

The only reminders of the area's former life are occasional discarded syringes found in alleys that had been missed by cleanup crews.

"It's just plain peaceful here now," said Ruth Wright, 45, as she sat on the marble steps in front of her home in the 2000 block of Greenmount.

Ms. Wright, who has lived in the house for 32 years, said that until the raids she had never allowed her 4-year-old grandson, Kevin Beasley, to play on the sidewalk. "I think it's all right now, but you still have to be out there with him."

But the scene is different in the Greenmount East neighborhood. Few children play on sidewalks in the 1300 and 1400 blocks of North Bond. Much of that turf belongs to drug dealers, and the residents know it.

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