Police aren't living up to promises, southwestern leaders say

September 24, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Dozens of community and religious leaders in Baltimore's southwestern neighborhoods are accusing police officials of failing to live up to prior commitments, including an August 1995 written agreement, to implement effective community policing tactics in their area.

The comments came during a meeting of 125 residents, who live within the boundaries of Southwestern Police District, at Trinity Presbyterian Church last night. Speakers at the hourlong gathering chastised the district's commander, Maj. Gary Lembach, and demanded that Lembach's superiors improve the situation.

The Rev. K. Aaron Lee of Trinity Presbyterian, in the 3200 block of Walbrook Ave., addressed police officers in attendance directly: "We expect you to produce results."

Col. Ronald Daniel, chief of field operations for the Police Department, agreed to residents' demands for better follow-up on complaints and police raids, cooperation with community leaders in developing crime-fighting strategies, and bimonthly meetings with residents. He refused to increase foot patrols, as citizens had requested, because he said he does not have enough officers to do so.

"I propose to have an individual response by us to every individual complaint by the community," Daniel said.

In August 1995, Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier reached a written agreement with Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, a church-based community coalition. The one-page pact required police in Southwestern, Western and Central districts to train community police officers, establish a clear chain of command for handling complaints, and ensure accountability for officers as they respond to neighborhood issues.

But neighborhood association leaders who spoke at the meeting said police were failing to handle basic complaints raised by residents, particularly in the Walbrook neighborhood and North Avenue corridor.

Emma Hough, secretary of Citizens for Community Involvement, said that police stings on drug corners only had a temporary effect.

Ocie Black, president of the Ellamont Christian Community Association, said officers were not routinely responding to 911 calls.

Beverly Stewart, a Walbrook resident, said her neighborhood did not have sufficient contact with the two Southwestern District officers specifically assigned to community relations.

Several residents acknowledged that they had not been aggressive enough in pushing police to follow through on the agreement, which included forming "neighborhood police teams."

But last night's audience applauded loudly when Stewart of the Walbrook Neighborhood Community Council blamed Lembach.

"We have a commander in the Southwestern District who seems to have a lackadaisical attitude to community policing," she said.

Lembach, who was not at the meeting, said in an interview that he has made the Walbrook neighborhood a priority. He said police had made 482 arrests and executed 57 search and seizure warrants in the vicinity of North Avenue and Longwood Road. "We're very concerned about the issues the community is raising," Lembach said. "We want to listen."

Pub Date: 9/24/96

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