Housing complex tenants protest picture ID cards

March 22, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

Elizamae Robinson, who has lived at the Woodside Gardens housing complex in Annapolis for 24 years, said the management's decision to make her and her neighbors carry identification cards would be like "living in a police state."

"I'm 62 years old and I don't want to be coming out of my door and be harassed by police coming up to me asking for an ID," said Ms. Robinson, who will refuse to have her picture taken Friday. "It's just not right."

Ms. Robinson and the other tenants in the 144-unit development off Forest Drive found memos near their front doors Monday informing them of the new policy. Building management is requiring that adults and children older than 6 get the IDs and carry them at all times as a way to keep out trespassers and improve security.

"It is imperative that on the day appointed to your building you come into the rental office to be photographed and receive your ID card," the memo stated.

The management company has authorized its security officers to check anyone in the complex. The memo does not say what will happen to people who do not have the cards or to residents who refuse to get them.

Eva Anderson, the manager at Woodside Gardens, defended the move. "This is just a part of our security for our property," she said. "That's all."

Alpha Property Management Inc., the Dallas-based management company overseeing Woodside Gardens, says the policy is in residents' best interest and allows security person nel to control who enters and leaves the complex. Hal Murnane, a local attorney for the company, said the new cards are not meant to stigmatize tenants.

"This isn't going to be a situation where people have photo IDs plastered to their foreheads," Mr. Murnane said. "I would hope residents would eagerly cooperate with ideas that are designed for their safety."

The residents don't share Mr. Murnane's view. Since Monday, they have complained to city officials and discussed the memo among themselves.

They say the plan was drafted without their knowledge or participation and threatens to keep out visiting friends and family members. They also say the memo leads them to believe police could stop and question people who are simply walking down the street.

Alderman Carl O. Snowden, whose ward includes Woodside Gardens, said the policy is unconstitutional and will would encourage police officers to stop tenants for questioning without probable cause.

"One of the things we have as citizens is that we can come and go as we please," he said. "The danger here is that you cross the line. You end up penalizing law-abiding citizens."

Mr. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat, has asked federal authorities to review the policy on the grounds it changes the lease agreement at the government-subsidized complex. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development must review any lease change before it goes into effect at a public-assisted development, he said.

Mr. Murnane said the policy is not a lease change and added that there is no violation of civil rights.

Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the Maryland American Civil Liberties Union, said the photo ID is used only sparingly in public housing complexes across the country, although he was not sure of the number of subsidized developments employing the strategy.

"But," he added, "it's the whiff of Big Brother here that's troubling."

The IDs would be checked only by the private security detail hired by the complex, not the city-paid police force, police said.

The security force is made up of uniformed, armed off-duty police officers who still have their arrest powers.

Annapolis Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson said the ID check would not be used for information gathering by on-duty police.

Chief Johnson said the cards would be a worthwhile in helping to keep drug dealers and other criminals from visiting the complex.

"All law-abiding citizens understand this is a minor inconvenience and it is their civic duty," he said. "The problem isn't from the community, it's from the outside, and that's what we're talking about addressing here."

Nevertheless, Ms. Robinson and other residents said it doesn't matter whether the police are on- or off-duty because officers checking for identification would be intimidating.

"This is one more thing making me feel like I'm living in a police state," Ms. Robinson said

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