Dutch police walk beat with Baltimore officers Some of city's methods to fight crime seem unnecessary to visitors

June 24, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

It was a simple drug arrest similar to hundreds of others made each week in Baltimore. The manager of a Roy Rogers found a man shooting up heroin in the bathroom. He called the police, who took the man to jail.

The bust netted police three vials of crack cocaine and an empty heroin syringe and took Officer Bryan K. Hake off the street for more than two hours to book the prisoner.

For Arie Weeda, a visiting police officer from the Netherlands -- where police and citizens are more tolerant of drug use -- the bust seemed a bit unnecessary.

"Maybe we would talk to him, maybe give him a ticket," Weeda said. "We would tell him that if he wanted to do that, to do it at home. But maybe we would have taken him to the station as well, because you have to protect the shop owners."

The different approaches to the same problem go to the heart of the Dutch drug policy, in which police tolerate personal drug use as long as it stays hidden from public view and doesn't cause problems for others.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has ordered his troops to concentrate on arresting gun-toting drug dealers rather than drug users, arguing that incarcerating users won't solve any problems. It is a theory practiced daily by police in the Netherlands.

This year, Frazier sent two officers on a monthlong trip to Rotterdam, where they studied drug policies, community policing and other tactics that might be useful here.

Now, two Rotterdam officers are completing the exchange, spending four weeks with Baltimore police. The weekend was their first venture out on routine patrol, and they spent the night in the Eastern District, the city's most dangerous.

While it was a relatively quiet night, Weeda and Lt. Leo de Haas got a taste of inner-city life, trampling through debris-strewn alleys, walking into crumbling vacant rowhouses and maneuvering up streets filled with families trying to escape the oppressive summer heat.

Before venturing out, they met Maj. Odis L. Sistrunk Jr., the Eastern District commander, who told them of his plans to improve East Baltimore. "I have a vision of what I want this district to be," he told the visitors. "If we work hard enough, we'll make it."

Haas told Sistrunk that in Rotterdam -- a city similar in size to Baltimore, but with far less crime -- petty criminals are made to clean up streets instead of going to jail. "They mess it up, why don't they clean it up?" he asked.

Weeda, who just started the second week of his visit, already has some ideas of what he wants to take home. As a riot-control officer, he likes the equipment Baltimore tactical officers carry, such as shields.

He also likes the quick backup officers get when in trouble. Rarely are many patrol cars on the street at one time in Rotterdam. But he was surprised that officers here are not permitted to pull over a car without probable cause, unlike Rotterdam officers. "I get the impression that individual rights are more important than society's rights," he said.

While on the street, Weeda met several city officers, all of whom peppered him with questions about policing and crime in Rotterdam. "We have drug crime," Weeda said. "But it's nothing like you have here. When we have a shooting, it's something special."

Rotterdam officers, who number 5,000, patrol in a vastly different way than their Baltimore counterparts. Officers spend a lot of their time walking the streets and meeting with residents.

Emergency calls in Rotterdam number just 1,500 a year, compared with the 300,000 to which Baltimore officers respond annually. It means officers here spend much of their time hopping from one complaint to the next, leaving little time for preventive policing.

Officers in Rotterdam are required to know the names of the shop owners and community leaders on their beat. They are evaluated not just on crime, but on people's perception of crime.

"Do you know the residents here?" Weeda asked Officer Andrew Williams.

"I know some," Williams answered. "I know the ones I lock up."

Weeda noticed one major blight -- vacant rowhouses. City officers drove him down several streets where house after house was boarded up. "I call these ghost blocks," Williams said.

"You could tear it down and make a nice playground for the kids," Weeda said, adding that Rotterdam officials are quick to tear down such houses because, as in Baltimore, they become havens for drug addicts.

Rotterdam officials seem quick to recognize problems -- they are tearing down one blighted area that has become notorious for crime -- but also pride themselves in working closely with other city agencies.

"Without the help, you can't solve problems like this," said Weeda, adding that the two cities are hard to compare because of differences in crime rates and the number of drug addicts. Baltimore has an estimated 50,000 addicts; Rotterdam has 3,500.

But Weeda said that crack has just started to affect the Netherlands, and he warned that his hometown officials will have to work hard to avoid a fate similar to Baltimore's.

"In Rotterdam, it's quiet now," he said. "But maybe in 10 years, we'll have the same problems."

Pub Date: 6/24/96

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