Neighborhood has a recipe for ousting drug dealers Midnight cookouts to begin June 28

June 13, 1996|By Erica C. Harrington | Erica C. Harrington,SUN STAFF

Police increase patrols to fight drug crime. Politicians allocate money for drug prevention programs. But John Sigmon, president of the Baltimore-Linwood Association, fires up his grill and cracks open a soda to combat drugs in his Patterson Park neighborhood.

With help from neighbors, Sigmon plans to hold midnight cookouts in his neighborhood to drive away drug dealers and show them that residents have "had enough." The first association cookout is set for midnight June 28 at Fairmount and Luzerne avenues.

Sigmon plans to hold cookouts at trouble spots such as Curley Street between Fayette Street and Fairmount Avenue, and Decker Avenue between Fayette and Baltimore streets. Police Sgt. William Rowland said the majority of the neighborhood's problems are along Fairmount Avenue.

Sigmon has held two cookouts on his own in the past six weeks. He held the first after drug dealers approached him as he parked his car.

He said it is not unusual to see young men soliciting drug business. "I could stand on my front step and watch 15 to 20 youths out there flagging cars down," said Sigmon, who lives in the 100 block of N. Linwood Ave.

Sigmon, who has had ties to the neighborhood for 20 years, wants the cookouts to show drug dealers in his neighborhood that residents are serious about fighting crime. At his first barbecue, he and friends sat outside with a grill, sodas and a 35-mm camera without film.

Drug customers "ran away when they saw us," Sigmon said. "They went up to Potomac Street; we went too. Finally, they went in and didn't come back."

Sigmon said his camera will have film on June 28 and that he will focus on faces and license plate numbers of dealers and customers.

Rowland said police made 60 arrests in the neighborhood from )) Jan. 1 to Sunday and that 24 of them were drug-related. He said neighbors made 3,324 calls to police during that period.

"The community gives us the information, and then we corroborate it," said Rowland, who supports the cookout idea. "Anything that brings out neighbors in a common activity is a positive deterrent to crime."

Ed Rutkowski, project coordinator for Patterson Park Neighborhoods Initiative, who plans to attend the cookouts, said driving the dealers away is not a solution.

"The real problem is, you drive it somewhere else," said Rutkowski, whose nonprofit group promotes homeownership in Southeast Baltimore. "We must deal with drugs in general or they'll just be on someone else's corner."

Association member Gayle DeLoach of the 2500 block of E. Fairmount Ave. said she has concerns about the safety of the cookouts but feels they will help deter crime.

"It's a big risk, but we have to take a stand," she said. "Most of [the dealers] are not from the neighborhood, so maybe we can run them back home."

Officer J. P. Clements, who works in the neighborhood, said there is not much danger in holding a cookout with a large group.

"They don't want to draw attention to themselves because there are a lot of witnesses," he said of the drug dealers. "They have a tendency to behave themselves."

Rutkowski said he did not expect any security problems. "It's hard to imagine any real danger," he said. "It's a matter of not showing fear. If you let it go, that's worse."

The cookouts have to be held often to deter drug dealers, he said, adding, "One night a month won't stop the drug trade."

Sigmon said, "I'm going to try to get a group big enough to show a sign of force. We want to intimidate them instead of them intimidating us."

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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