Trespassers beware: Residents fed up

June 27, 1994|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Melody Simmons contributed to this article.

Barbara Quamina is looking forward to a summer of hanging wash without having to fear drug dealers' gunshots. And Olivia Reid plans to find more useful hobbies than peering through her binoculars as drug buyers cruise by.

For the first time in a year, their West Baltimore neighborhood, Forest Heights, is quiet, thanks to an intense anti-drug campaign by residents and a private security company. These days, drug activity is being held at bay.

Now, the neighborhood is using another weapon -- the trespassing law -- in the battle against drugs. Warnings are being issued to people suspected of coming to Forest Heights to sell drugs, and they will be arrested as trespassers if they return.

Forest Heights, a neighborhood of 320 rental townhouses off Forest Park Avenue, just inside the city's western border, once was a popular place for suburbanites to buy drugs.

But after residents of this predominantly black community noticed white motorists stopping on street corners and parking lots to buy drugs, the tenant council began jotting down license plate numbers.

Those numbers were sent to City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, whose office obtained the car owners' names and addresses from the Motor Vehicle Administration and sent warning letters to let the drivers know they were being watched.

Last fall, the townhouses' landlord hired Off Duty Police Security Services to patrol the grounds and chase away suspected buyers and dealers by using cars equipped with video cameras.

That drove off most of the drug buyers, said Richard Udell, property manager for the landlord, Allegheny Properties Inc. "There's still [drug] business, but there's a dent in it," he said.

Tenants used to see as many as 50 cars cruise through the neighborhood each day, the drivers in search of drugs. Now they see about two such cars a day, although some addicts park outside the neighborhood and walk in to find drugs in hopes of avoiding the security patrol.

The tactics in Forest Heights are typical of the innovative methods being used to battle drugs in Baltimore neighborhoods. Some community leaders have staged nighttime vigils where dealers hang out, have boarded up vacant houses used as drug shooting galleries and have videotaped drug transactions as ~~TC form of intimidation.

Police spokesman Sam Ringgold endorsed the efforts of the Forest Heights community to curb drug activity. "It's good for citizens to be pro-active," he said. "It's also important for law-abiding citizens to send the message that we're not going to tolerate it any more."

Still, Forest Heights leaders continue to be bothered by about 20 drug dealers and by drug buyers who continue to drive and walk through the complex.

So the private security service has a new strategy -- using the trespassing law.

With the legal advice of the nonprofit Community Law Center, security guards have begun handing warning letters to suspected drug dealers, asking them to leave Forest Heights because it is private property.

If the dealer returns, the security guard will call police or go to the court commissioner and have the dealer arrested on trespassing charges, said Rick Caldwell, an official from Off Duty Police Security. Off Duty Police Security has used the trespassing law successfully in other complexes, including the Sinclair Gate Apartments in Northeast Baltimore and Lantern Hill off Liberty Road in Baltimore County, Mr. Caldwell said.

Forest Heights' tenants and management said they hope their new strategy will help rid the neighborhood of drug dealing.

In the meantime, they're enjoying their partial success.

"I don't think we've heard a gunshot since March," said resident Vicki Kelly. "We used to hear them every day, and on weekends sometimes two or three times a night."

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