Major's focus is reducing crime Despite drop in shootings, assaults, Eastern District leader is 'not happy yet'

October 24, 1995|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Maj. Odis L. Sistrunk Jr. knew he had a daunting task when he took over command of the crime-battered Eastern District last year. But he promised quick results anyway. Two years wasn't good enough.

"If the district succeeds, then I succeed," he said at the time. "If the district fails, then it is my failure."

Now, the 26-year veteran sits behind his desk reviewing statistics showing that while homicides are up slightly, violent crime overall has dropped nearly 18 percent since he arrived. Shootings are down, as are robberies, assaults and burglaries. Homicides totaled 43 in the first half of this year, compared with 41 last year.

"I am not happy yet," Major Sistrunk said. "I know that I've accomplished something. Now that I know what it takes to get the job done, we have to pick up the pace. I enjoy what I'm doing, but I'm not having fun yet."

The major has compiled a six-page report highlighting his year of drug sweeps, padlocking drug houses, making curfew arrests, and his cornerstone: arresting people for loitering in designated drug-free zones. It is a tactic he uses to keep the corners clear and move drug dealers out of neighborhoods under siege.

"This report, in no way, intends to suggest that we are living in paradise," the major concluded. "It does, however, provide you with evidence of progress."

In 1993, the Eastern District led the city in shootings and homicides. To bring those numbers down, police swept through two communities -- Midway and Middle East -- in large shows of force.

Since then, the Eastern District drug squad has conducted 11 raids, arresting 269 drug suspects, raiding 115 homes and seizing 31 weapons.

Police say violent crime has plummeted 65 percent in Midway, 18 percent in Middle East and 25 percent in the Oliver community. Excluding the raids, 3,155 people were arrested on drug charges in the first half of this year.

"It's difficult to keep it up everywhere, but if we keep punching, then maybe we can bring it down to an acceptable level," Major Sistrunk said.

Some community residents were apprehensive about losing their longtime commander and friend, Maj. Alvin A. Winkler, who was transferred to head the traffic section. And while they say Major Sistrunk has a different approach, they say his style is working.

"We get a lot of support," said Sylvia Fulwood, executive director of the East Barclay-Midway Community Development Corp. "The officers under his command are very cooperative with this organization."

She said there still is a problem with people loitering on corners, but she praised officers for getting out of their cars to deal with the situation, rather than just driving by. "They are confronting the crowds," Ms. Fulwood said.

Major Sistrunk agrees more can be done but says progress has been made. On Aug. 17, he sent a memo to shift commanders saying that the numbers of car stops resulting in seizures of stolen goods or arrests, field interviews and drug-free-zone arrests had fallen to unacceptable levels.

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