City seeks residents for expanded block watch Goal is to report drugs, trash, rundown homes

February 16, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Expanding block-watch programs, Baltimore officials yesterday launched an extensive effort to enlist 10,000 residents to watch their streets and rid neighborhoods of drug dealers, trash and rundown homes.

Called block representatives, people who sign up for the program will get packets that include instructions on how to describe suspects to police, a "hot spot" card to record drug activity and a list of phone numbers to contact city agencies.

Participants also are expected to sign "good neighbor agreements" -- sort of a contract among residents to ensure their street is clear of trash, houses are kept up and parking privileges are not abused. Block representatives are expected to be problem-solvers for their neighbors.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier yesterday told a gathering of residents of the Patterson Park neighborhood that the "real secret weapon in this is the 95 percent of the law-abiding citizens who work together to make their little neighborhoods a better place."

The program, which Mr. Frazier has made one of his top five priorities for 1996, is his way of taking back the city block by block using stable neighborhoods to influence unstable ones next door.

jTC Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who also attended, said he has heard over and over about a connection between "crime and grime. We have to fight for cleaner, safer neighborhoods."

The mayor said that Baltimore has 30,000 blocks, and by the end of the year, he wants to see 10,000 block representatives. "I am absolutely sure we can reclaim our neighborhoods," he said.

In Southeast Baltimore, the unstable areas are between Luzerne and Patterson Park avenues and Fayette and Monument streets. To help the program get under way, police plan to saturate Patterson Park neighborhoods with an extra 100 officers over the next two days.

But police alone are not the answer. George G. Balog, the director of public works, promised the residents better lighting and trash cleanup. Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said he would work harder to fix up homes in disrepair.

Marie Flowers, who lives in East Baltimore-Linwood, told Mr. Henson that landlords are never punished for their rundown houses. "The only way you get someone into housing court is when his house is practically falling down," Ms. Flowers said. "And the judge gives him a slap on the wrist. It doesn't work."

Mr. Henson said his office being tougher on landlords, taking some to court where they can face substantial fines.

The housing commissioner also said that he is addressing the problem of Section 8 subsidized housing in Southeast Baltimore. Residents have complained that an influx of subsidized housing residents has caused the neighborhoods to deteriorate.

Mr. Henson said that in the future, his office will do criminal background checks on people applying for Section 8 housing and not accept anyone who has been convicted of violent crimes or drugs in the previous five years.

Shirley Nash, who has lived in Baltimore Highlands for 36 years, signed up as a block representative yesterday. She said her neighborhood "isn't that bad," although some drug dealers have set up shop on a nearby corner.

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