Violent crime has plummeted in snow-encrusted Baltimore since the onslaught began Sunday, but it hasn't deterred many street-corner drug dealers who have to work around snowdrifts to ply their trade.
While police say the open cocaine and heroin trade is virtually nonexistent in some parts of the city, other sections are reporting sales so brisk that prices have dropped. Even the mayor ran across a heroin dealer yesterday as he toured the city.
"It's a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year business," said Lt. Donald Haupt of the Southwestern District. "All the junkies need their crack. The weather doesn't slow them down at all."
Other crime in Baltimore has dropped significantly since the first of the year, and even more so since the blizzard dropped nearly 2 feet of snow on the city.
Four people have been slain since Jan. 1, and one since the storm began. Last year at this time, 11 homicides had been committed. Overall, violent crime dropped 23 percent since Jan. 1, compared with last year.
Police say that on average, 250 violent crimes are committed in Baltimore each day, including robberies and assaults. Since Jan. 1, that number dropped to 180. Since Sunday, an average of 70 such incidents have been reported each day.
"Obviously, the weather has had an impact on the level of violence that we normally deal with," said Maj. Wendell M. France, commander of the homicide unit. "I think the mayor got the word out that people need to be patient. Everyone is taking the storm in stride."
The scene is quite different from the Blizzard of '79, when widespread looting cost businesses millions of dollars. Police credit military Humvees and extra four-wheel drives that enable them to patrol unplowed streets.
But the drug trade thrives in some neighborhoods. A 64-year-old East Baltimore woman said the dealing is so bad in the 2600 block of E. Preston St. that it caused a traffic jam.
"Nothing has changed in my neighborhood," said the woman, who wouldn't give her name for fear of retribution. "You can't get food, you can't get to the store, but they can still get to the drugs. It's amazing. Some way or another, they're making their way up here to get them."
An East Baltimore resident, who lives near Preston and Bond streets, said: "It's been real quiet since the snow. I've seen one or two [dealers] walk down the street, but that's about it. You normally can't walk down the street, there's so many of them."
Maj. Odis L. Sistrunk, commander of the Eastern District, said drug complaints to his station are down. "The dealers aren't annoying the community by lining up in front of homes," he said, adding that much of the drug trade has moved indoors. "Word gets around. [Drug users] know where they can go."
But enterprising criminals still are out. Yesterday, on slippery, slushy West North Avenue, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke drove past a half-dozen men hanging out on a corner near Coppin State College.
The mayor rolled down the window of his Jeep Grand Cherokee and called out to the group, "What's for sale?" It turned out to be heroin -- and socks.
Some of the men quickly looked away and tried to conceal what they were doing. But one pointed inside his trunk to show off row after row of neatly packaged athletic socks. "That's one of our worst drug corners," the mayor said.
How the snow affected the narcotics trade is difficult to measure. The numbers served by the city's needle exchange program are down. Workers have distributed syringes on foot and from distribution centers in East and West Baltimore.
The city's 20 methadone clinics shut down Monday, causing a shortage Tuesday and sending many addicts seeking treatment hospitals, which also ran out, said Dr. Peter Beilenson, city health commissioner. There are an estimated 50,000 addicts in the city; Baltimore leads the nation in drug overdoses.
And drugs seem to be readily available, even though the storm slowed travel out of New York, the source of much of the city's cocaine and heroin.
Lt. Nicholas R. Palmeri, head of the Police Department's narcotics squad, said the "major dealers are subject to the same rigors as we are -- getting around in the snow."
Lieutenant Palmeri said his officers have "seen the junkies walking around, but whether they are finding enough drugs, I just don't know. But this city being the way it is, I'm sure there is ample supply to carry them over for the couple of days they were short."