Police to try out new station a kiosk

April 11, 1995|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

Construction workers lowered Baltimore's newest style of community policing into place yesterday at Market Center: an 8-by-12-foot corner kiosk based on a Japanese model of law enforcement.

In a few weeks, this blue box at the northwest corner of West Lexington and North Howard streets will be a new police substation known as a "koban," complete with phones, a fax, a computer, television monitors and a bathroom.

Now, it is an empty steel shell with bulletproof glass, but the $125,000 structure is being lauded by police and business leaders as a step toward revitalizing the Howard Street corridor.

"The more I look at it, the more I like it," said Milt Rosenbaum, president of the Market Center Association and owner of Hosiery World. "I'm sure it will do a lot to alleviate people's perception of crime in this area."

The koban is about 15 feet from Morton's clothing store and is near the main entrance to the old Hecht's building, which is being taken over by Rite-Aid pharmacy.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier learned about kobans last spring on a 10-day visit to Tokyo, where the stations are two stories high and are staffed round-the-clock by officers who sleep inside.

The chief said he would decide where to place other kobans after seeing how the one in Market Center works. The next location probably will be the Inner Harbor, he said.

Police plan to staff the kiosk 12 to 16 hours a day -- with one officer on each shift -- and hope to use police from the city and the Mass Transit Administration. Video cameras are set up at Lexington Market and Liberty Street, and police said they want to tap into other security cameras operated by nearby University of Maryland at Baltimore.

The main purpose of the koban in Baltimore, where the smallest precinct has almost 200 officers, is visibility -- allowing residents to see the station and officers to watch the community on television monitors.

Wanda Morgan, who lives in West Baltimore and shops daily at Market Center, said the kiosk should deter people from shoplifting.

"They won't be able to take stuff because the police are right here," Ms. Morgan said, while watching construction workers lower the koban into place. "It looks really good. It will stop people who commit bad crimes."

Mr. Frazier said he chose the area around Lexington Market for the prototype koban because it is one of the busiest commercial areas in the city. Last year, several shootings there alarmed merchants.

"We really do want people to feel comfortable as they use the malls," Mr. Frazier said.

Yesterday, Mr. Frazier walked around the koban and talked about crime and the workmanship with Jimmy Seal, general superintendent of Empire Construction Co., which installed the koban.

When the first officer will move in hasn't been decided, the commissioner said, adding, "It's not bad duty, I'll tell you that."

The koban, which will be lighted on top to show off the "Police" signs, also can be used by other officers to write reports or make telephone calls.

It was designed by the Ziger/Snead architectural firm, which designed a building based on Japanese kobans and incorporating an American style of policing.

"There aren't many people in the U.S. who have built one of these," said Steven G. Ziger, one of the firm's partners. "I think the commissioner is very progressive in coming up with the idea."

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