Police cite anti-crime gains in Walbrook As merchants complain, officers defend efforts

December 20, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Although businesses complain they're being forced to close because of illegal drug activity at Walbrook Junction, police asserted yesterday they're making inroads on crime there.

Walbrook is the largest neighborhood in the Southwestern Police District, where the overall crime rate is down 8.1 percent for the first 11 months of this year compared with the same period last year, Maj. Gary G. Lembach, district commander, said yesterday.

Police have taken 439 guns off the streets there this year, compared with 280 collected in all of 1995, Lembach said.

"I can assure you nobody here is giving up but we can't arrest our way out of the drug problem," said Lembach, noting that charges are dropped against most arrested drug suspects and not enough drug-treatment programs exist for the city's addicts.

Lembach's comments addressed complaints about drug activity by area merchants, including the longtime owner of Walbrook Hardware and Supply Co., which is closing after more than 50 years.

Lembach acknowledged that a police substation established at 1910 Longwood St. in Walbrook a year ago was closed in March, a month after Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said it was the "epicenter" of drug activity in a 65-square-block section of West Baltimore besieged by drugs and guns.

"We closed it because I like to kind of move things around. You have to keep changing your strategies because, if you don't, the drug dealers know what you're doing," Lembach said.

However, an employee with the property management company that provided the rowhouse substation to police rent-free said police told her it was closed because, despite many arrests, it had done little to quell drug trafficking.

"They tried very hard but I think they just threw their hands up and gave up," said Shirley J. Adkins, office manager for Homewood Realty Inc., a Maryland Avenue real estate company that handles about 500 residential properties for landlords.

That substation was firebombed a day after Frazier's February news conference, causing minor damage, Adkins said.

Lembach said it was the only such incident there, and it didn't intimidate police officers.

Another substation is less than a mile away on Garrison Boulevard, police said.

Southwestern District anti-crime programs include working with the criminal justice institute at Walbrook High School, a career development program; moving a police "command post center" in a Winnebago to various high-crime areas as a deterrent; and a Police Athletic League center in the 1800 block of Rosedale St., where police provide recreation for youths.

The district received 10 new officers last month and will add 10 from next month's police academy graduating class, Lembach said.

But these efforts won't change Walbrook Hardware owner Paul Weinberg's mind. He is closing his store next week because of an open-air drug market adjacent to his business on the southwest corner of West North Avenue and Rosedale Street.

Dozens of people visited or called the store yesterday to say goodbye to Weinberg after an article about his store and the neighborhood appeared in The Sun.

In June, Weinberg decided not to leave the business to his son, Mark, 44, fearing for his son's safety.

Just three years ago, then-City Council President Mary Pat Clarke held a noon-to-midnight "Going Out of Business Day" vigil outside Weinberg's store to show that law-abiding residents can take back their streets. It was part of an effort by city officials -- including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- to reclaim 22 of the city's worst drug corners.

But the next day, control of the corner had returned to the drug dealers and their steady flow of customers.

Pub Date: 12/20/96

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