City, state police join in 'hot spot' patrol Targeted areas in state to get backup, funds in violent-crime program

March 14, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Candus Thomson contributed to this article.

Maryland State Police troopers could be clearing drug corners and racing to shootings in Baltimore this summer under a new law enforcement initiative to reduce violent crime throughout the state.

Though state police are part of several joint task forces working within city limits, the program would mark the first time an outside police agency has assisted city officers on routine patrols.

The troopers would be teamed with city police and limited to five or six select neighborhoods called "hot spots" -- areas of the city with the highest concentration of violent crime.

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is scheduled to announce the program, "Reclaiming our Neighborhoods," at an all-day conference Tuesday at the Baltimore Convention Center in which communities throughout Maryland will be instructed on how to apply for assistance.

Nearly 600 representatives are expected to attend, from small communities in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore to larger, high-crime neighborhoods in the Washington suburbs.

Thirty-six hot spots will be chosen -- state officials would like to see at least one in each of the state's 24 jurisdictions -- and each will get $35,000 to $200,000 in federal grant money a year until 2000.

Every area chosen will receive help from state troopers who will rotate through the hot spots, spending several weeks in each. The areas also will get money for other crime-fighting efforts, and community programs.

"This focuses on geographic areas -- my block, where I live, where I play," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who pointed to New York City's success at reducing crime by targeting nuisance offenses.

"There are steps that can be taken which will make neighborhoods safer," Townsend said in an interview.

Baltimore officials plan to go ahead with the program, but they remain cautious -- concerned that one controversial act by a trooper not used to urban policing could spark problems. They have not yet chosen which five areas to target.

Baltimore police spokesman Sam Ringgold said some residents still view the city Police Department as "heavy-handed. We don't need anything to add to that." The program, he said, "is a tool and we certainly welcome additional resources. But hot spots move, and we certainly have more than five."

Baltimore County police -- who have their own hot spot squads -- said they had no plans to seek help from state police.

The state announcement of its hot spot initiative comes on the heels of several more recent programs to combine the efforts of law enforcement agencies here.

At one such joint effort announced this week in Takoma Park, Gov. Parris N. Glendening summed up his policing strategy: "Jurisdictional boundaries will no longer stop our police from doing their jobs."

State police recently teamed up with officers in Prince George's County to target criminals. And this week, 50 FBI agents were assigned to the Prince George's force for a two-month campaign against criminals.

The hot spot program builds on a state police initiative begun in 1993 called "Operation People," when 30 troopers patrolled Newtowne 20 and Woodside Gardens, drug-plagued neighborhoods in Annapolis.

Less than two weeks after state police ended their round-the-clock patrols a month later, residents complained that drug dealers had reclaimed their turf.

But the governor's office contends that the new program offers more than police sweeps. The $3.5 million in grant money will go toward bolstering neighborhood playgrounds and parks, supervising parolees and creating more activities for youths.

Some of the combined efforts already are under way. Baltimore police teamed last month with state parole and probation officers to target the 60 most violent program offenders. And Baltimore's police chief favors a bill pending in Annapolis to give state police authority to make traffic stops in the city.

Many jurisdictions already have decided which hot spot areas they wish to nominate. Annapolis wants to concentrate on Eastport. Carroll County has identified Taneytown. Cecil County wants Elkton and Northeast.

Prince George's County plans to nominate Seat Pleasant and District Heights; St. Mary's County has chosen Lexington Park and Easton; and Charles County wants La Plata and Waldorf.

Howard County has not yet selected its hot spots.

Although many outlying areas of the state don't have the level of violent crime that urban areas do, officials said they could use the added state police help to keep big-city problems from invading their relatively quiet hamlets.

Kent County Sheriff John F. Price said he was considering three areas to nominate, including Chestertown, because of "open-air drug markets. That's the problem here."

State and city officials acknowledge it wasn't easy to persuade Baltimore leaders to combine police efforts with the state.

The ill-fated 1994 state police raid on Baltimore's Block -- the famed adult entertainment district -- still resonates throughout the city's law enforcement community. More than 500 troopers raided virtually every strip club for drugs and prostitution, only to have most of their cases dissolve in charges of corruption.

Townsend said concerns about The Block came up at every meeting with Glendening, Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and Col. David B. Mitchell, the state police superintendent.

She pointed out there was a new governor, new city police chief and new state police superintendent. The hot spot initiative, she said, "is not an enormous 500-person raid. It is a very different situation."

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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