A new effort to cool off crime's hot spots Police squads patrol on Pulaski Highway

March 16, 1997|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

At first glance, Pulaski Highway between Golden Ring Mall and the Baltimore line seems little more than a quiet, though uninviting, strip of female revue bars, motels and convenience stores.

"It looks like nothing is happening around here," Baltimore County police Sgt. Kimberly Hall said as she cruised past Duke's Motel, whose bright red and green sign reads: "Your Home Tonite."

But Hall -- whose six-officer Community Action Team (CAT) is one of seven that began patrolling the county three weeks ago in an effort to respond quickly to crime -- says the peaceful picture is deceptive.

Less than four hours into her squad's 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift, Hall's officers had uncovered prostitution leads, helped patrol officers arrest three teen-agers on marijuana-possession charges, questioned two suspicious-looking youths outside a gas station and arrested two people on shoplifting charges.

"If you hang out long enough, hide and watch people, you will see what is going on around here pretty quick," said Hall, a member of the department for nine years.

Using new, computer-generated crime statistics to identify hot spots for crime -- such as Pulaski Highway, where neighbors complain of chronic problems with prostitution -- the CAT squads are intended to establish an immediate, visible police presence.

They are police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan's newest weapon against serious crime and lesser offenses commonly called quality-of-life crimes. State police began similar patrols in Prince George's County last year in a program that might be expanded to other jurisdictions.

'Holistic approach'

"It's a holistic approach to crime," Sheridan said of the effort, which is funded through a $3 million federal grant and $1 million in county funds. "Any problems, even if they are minor ones, we want to solve them. If it's a litter problem because there are people loitering, then we want to solve that as well as the serious crimes in the neighborhood."

The 49 officers and supervisors who make up the seven squads are longtime patrol officers. In addition to the Pulaski Highway squad, others have been working in Dundalk, Essex, Woodlawn, the Hillendale area and Garrison.

County police credit the squads with 149 arrests involving offenses ranging from traffic violations to armed robbery, said Lt. Vernon Hoey, the squads' supervisor.

The three-mile stretch of Pulaski Highway between Rossville Boulevard and the Baltimore line is ripe for such attention.

The area was at its worst about nine years ago, when residents complained that prostitutes were conducting business in cars parked along residential streets in plain view of young children pedaling by on tricycles, said longtime resident Fred Porcella.

"The kids could see what was going on in the cars through the windows," he said. "So I took pictures of it all and sent it to the police chief, District Court judges and some other county officials. We wanted them to do something about it."

Since then, city and county police have tried to rid the area of those problems.

Their efforts have not been without cost. In October 1993, county Officer James E. Beck was shot three times after he stopped a robbery suspect's truck on Pulaski Highway. The suspect's girlfriend was posing as a prostitute on Pulaski Highway and had robbed a man who gave her a ride.

Three months later, Sgt. John D. Weber was shot during a routine traffic stop on Pulaski Highway about a half-mile away.

According to the most recent statistics, there were 35 armed robberies last year along Pulaski Highway in the White Marsh Precinct.

From July to January last year, undercover officers made 137 drug arrests along Pulaski Highway and locked up 52 prostitutes, according to the statistics.

"We have so much traffic coming and going through there," said Capt. Howard Hall of the White Marsh Precinct, which oversees that stretch of Pulaski Highway.

Despite the recent arrests, some prostitutes seem to find the area of cheap hotels on Pulaski Highway an attractive place to conduct business.

Last week, as Hall cruised behind Duke's Motel, she spotted a woman being dropped off by a taxi. Hall watched as the woman -- wearing a short brown skirt and gold top -- climbed the metal stairs to the second floor and a man let her into his room.

When the woman left a short time later, Hall questioned the man, who nervously denied that the woman was a prostitute. But when pressed, he admitted calling an escort service. He said he did not have sex with her because she charged too much.

"That's different," Hall said of calling an escort service. "Usually, the idea is to get the first customer to pay for the room, and then the prostitute keeps the room for the rest of the night."

Visibility '100 percent'

By the end of the night, officers with Hall's squad had made six arrests involving various offenses. They also had confiscated eight plastic bags of marijuana hidden in a car that Officer Dale Barbagallo had stopped on the nearby Baltimore Beltway.

"I think we have curtailed some of the nuisance crimes around here," Hall said. "Now I want to make sure that we don't become a routine sight around here. I want us to do different things, because if you put a police officer in the area for an extended period of time, it seems to lose its effect."

Nancy Leiter, president of the Rosedale Community Association, said residents of the neighborhoods near Pulaski Highway are pleased with how often they see officers cruising through their neighborhood and along the highway.

"Their visibility is 100 percent," she said. "We have seen them on Pulaski Highway stopping people and really enforcing the laws."

As Hall made another trip up and down Pulaski Highway, she said, "This is what it's all about, getting out there and making arrests."

Pub Date: 3/16/97

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