Greenmount area critical of police policy shift Move away from drugs a mistake, residents say

January 26, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

All it took was the mention of Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier's name to wipe the smile off Kenneth Brown's face yesterday.

Mr. Frazier announced this week that he is instructing the city's officers to concentrate on seizing guns and de-emphasize arrests for drug possession. The idea is to reduce violent crime, he says.

But Mr. Brown, a human services worker at East Barclay-Midway Community Development Corp., and the people he serves aren't convinced the plan will work. Mr. Brown says residents of the Greenmount Avenue area, where drug dealing is common, ask him for referrals for drug treatment and complain about drug dealers on street corners. But he never hears complaints about guns.

"The problem lies in the drugs," says Mr. Brown, 32, who has worked for the nonprofit social service agency for three years. "For them to target guns is great, but the need to remove the element that carries guns and causes people to carry guns is the greater need."

Mr. Brown's sentiment yesterday dominated the neighborhoods along Greenmount Avenue, between North Avenue and 25th Street, where residents, store owners and even a few addicts criticized Mr. Frazier's plan.

Residents liked the talk about seizing guns, but -- despite Mr. Frazier's assurances that he will continue aggressive police raids in high-crime neighborhoods like Midway -- they said that even small-time drug-users should be arrested, not tolerated.

"If you're going to clean up the violence, you have stop both drugs and guns. You can't separate this stuff," said Garry Vaughan, 41. He said he used drugs until recently, when he "found God and got a job on a city trash truck."

Mr. Vaughan, who has lived in Midway all his life, said he was arrested multiple times, and for good reason. Drug addicts are too dangerous to remain on the streets, he said.

"Guns aren't the cause of problems," said Kendall Schuyler, a 27-year-old college student. "It's the constant struggle for drugs that is shooting people."

At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Frazier was careful to point out that police will still have "zero tolerance" for drugs and drug-dealing in troubled areas. And officers will continue to make some drug arrests.

But something has to give, the commissioner said: Processing a single drug arrest can take an officer half of an eight-hour shift.

Residents and merchants along Greenmount Avenue credit police raids for the reduction of violent crime by as much as 65 percent in some neighborhoods over the past two years. Drug arrests also are up, which has cheered convenience store owners so worried about crime that not only cashiers but also most merchandise now is behind bulletproof glass.

"They lock up people for many reasons," said Seung Im, owner of Greenmount Market, adding that the neighborhood is safer than it was two years ago. "But they're on the street the next day."

Despite their gains, police are distrusted in the neighborhood. Residents blame them for everything from the lack of jobs to glass shards spread across the sidewalks.

One 32-year-old man, who said he sells drugs "occasionally," complained that police officers make arrests for loitering but seem to overlook more serious dealings.

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