Uniformed officers seal neighborhood, leaving offenders no place to flee arrest Baltimore police project clamps down on crime

March 15, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

For two nights, 56 uniformed police officers abandoned their cars and stood on street corners on Baltimore's east side. They didn't chase people. They didn't walk around the block. They didn't move.

All they did was watch. When they saw someone dealing drugs or drinking alcohol, they radioed for other officers who swooped in and rounded up the lawbreakers as part of Operation Spider Web.

By the end of the first night on Thursday, 47 people were behind bars. Emergency calls for loiterers -- calls that typically tie up an officer's time -- were nonexistent. And not one shooting had occurred.

Last night, police reported they made 43 arrests.

"I'd like to do this every day," said Maj. Wendell M. France, commander of the Eastern District, who credited his officers with coming up with the plan to effectively seal entire communities with police officers.

However, France noted that the 56 officers were called in on overtime. They supplemented the 20 regular patrol officers who handled other calls through the night.

"Foot patrols are labor-intensive," he said. "It takes a lot of people to cover the same area."

Unlike drug sweeps and other operations in which officers crack down on virtually every crime, no matter how minor, the operation conducted over the past two nights was a hybrid of the traditional foot patrols.

France said the tactic confused the criminals, who are more used to seeing officers drive by than dealing with a constant police presence near their illicit street-corner activities.

"The regular dealers didn't understand the officers' purpose on the corners," France said. "They didn't chase. They notified the arrest teams who came in and took [offenders] out of the picture."

The Eastern District -- which consistently has the highest number of shootings and slayings -- has been frustrated by crime in recent years. Since January, 21 homicides have occurred, compared with six in the same period last year.

Even the police briefing papers acknowledge the struggle. "Drug dealers and their related violence have harassed and intimidated the decent citizens of our district," the officers wrote. "That is about to change."

In previous sweeps, police said, "most violators would escape through available arteries, only to begin business anew at a nearby location. Contrary to past operations, all avenues of escape will be covered by police officers."

In the neighborhoods covered by Operation Spider Web, there have been nine slayings, 22 shootings and 88 robberies this year.

Pub Date: 3/15/97

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