50 arrested in Baltimore drug raids

November 20, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

About 250 police officers converged on two of Baltimore's most violent neighborhoods yesterday, arresting 50 people and seizing firearms and large amounts of cash and drugs.

"These are street-level people. These are the people causing problems day after day," said Lt. John Sieracki, head of the Baltimore Police Department's violent-crimes task force.

"We're not looking for John Gotti," he said, referring to the powerful mobster serving a life prison term for murder and racketeering. "The majority of them are neighborhood people."

The areas targeted for yesterday's "Operation Southside" raids included communities around North Avenue and Longwood Street in the Southwestern District, and in the corridor defined by Fulton Avenue and Monroe Street in the Southern District.

Although police could provide no exact figures yesterday, they said the two areas ranked second and third, respectively, in 1993 in terms of street murders and other violence.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said at a news conference late yesterday afternoon that the raids grew from a challenge in the spring from several elderly women who lived in the area of North and Longwood in Walbrook.

He said the women asked him to walk their neighborhood with them and see the drug markets and filth for himself. Indeed, he said, he saw "dealers, needles and trash" everywhere. "The thing that just astonished me was their courage," Mr. Frazier said.

Police began the raids with prearranged indictments and arrest warrants for 120 people. Preset bails ranged from $10,000 to $1 million. A half-dozen people were held on no bail, Lieutenant Sieracki said.

"They are going to go to jail and stay there until they do their time," he said of the people held on high bails or no bail.

The raids and preceding investigations were the latest in a string of high-profile police operations that began in March in an attempt to overcome the hopelessness brought on by street violence and open-air drug dealing.

"I think we've sent the message that it is not hopeless," said Commissioner Frazier, who has vowed to take back the city's drug-infested street corners "and hold them."

"We have some very serious, long-standing distributors that it was absolutely necessary to get off the street," he said.

Beginning at 2 p.m. yesterday, police seized an unspecified amount of heroin, crack and cocaine, as well as nearly $100,000 in cash and two vehicles. Authorities were tallying the haul last night.

More than 30 weapons -- tiny .22-caliber handguns, well-worn sawed-off shotguns, semiautomatic machine pistols, hunting rifles and one AK-47 assault rifle -- were displayed on long wooden tables yesterday at police headquarters. Most of the firearms had been seized during the investigation that preceded yesterday's raids.

Among the 50 people arrested yesterday were 20 individuals who were caught incidentally in the net cast by city officers.

The only shot fired during the raid was by a police officer, whom Lieutenant Sieracki said was forced to kill a menacing dog in one of 20 houses raided. No officers and none of the people arrested were injured, police said.

"When you are doing this amount of warrants, the risk is always high," Commissioner Frazier said.

Many of the residences raided yesterday are well-known to police, said Lieutenant Sieracki. "They are chronic problems for us."

Last night, police were continuing their search for more suspects named in the warrants.

Beginning in March, other major sweeps in city areas described by police as deadly have focused on the Greenmount Avenue corridor, neighborhoods around Johns Hopkins Hospital and in the Brooklyn Homes housing project.

Yesterday's raids were preceded by a three-month investigation and more than 100 videotaped drug buys.

Lieutenant Sieracki said similar raids have proved successful.

Nearly all of the more than 40 people arrested in the first such raid -- called "Operation Midway" -- have been convicted, primarily because they have pleaded guilty, he said.

Commissioner Frazier also said yesterday that the successive raids this year "have empowered people to do things on their own. I see more commitment to help."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and other leaders say they will continue to attack "crime and grime" head-on.

As police try to round up more suspects named in the warrants, city cleanup crews will move in, Commissioner Frazier said.

Some homes, especially those used for stashing drugs or as "shooting galleries," could be condemned and torn down, Lieutenant Sieracki said.

Within the next two weeks, community meetings will be held to explain the raids and plan how to keep the areas safe and drug-free, Commissioner Frazier said.

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