Jake the snake wants police walking the beat

April 02, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

'Do you really want to go by the name Jake the Snake?" I ask the guy on the other end of the phone.

"Sure. Why not?" he answers. "Quite a few people know me by that - the politicians, jazz musicians."

Jake says he talks to politicians frequently, usually about the same topic: police foot patrols in Baltimore's neighborhoods. Jake, all of 69, is a native Baltimorean. He was born near Druid Hill Avenue and Wilson Street and remembers the days when the likes of Bishop Robinson - now Maryland's secretary for public safety and correctional services - walked the beat..

Such an idea is common sense to Jake: Foot patrolmen will deter crime. In January, after 3-year-old James Smith III was shot and killed in a West Baltimore barbershop, Snake called The Sun and left a message:

"The criminal knows it's no cops on the beat. When he sees the [patrol] car go by, he knows it's open season to commit a crime. I'm a scared man."

Yesterday, Jake was just as adamant in his views.

"If they knew or had an idea a cop was walking the street, the criminal would have a second thought," Jake insisted. He uses incidents from the police blotter to bolster his case: two shootings and a woman being knocked to the ground after having her purse snatched were all incidents that happened in his district.

Jake claims to put city officials on the spot about foot patrols whenever he gets the chance. He has questioned Commissioner Thomas Frazier about the issue, pulled City Council President Lawrence Bell aside at the Sportsmen's Lounge jazz club and was tempted to embarrass Mayor Kurt Schmoke about the city's crime problem when Jake spotted the chief executive outside St. Peter Claver Church one day.

"I was going down the steps and lighting a cigarette," Jake recalled. "There were a couple of guys standing at a station wagon. Who should come out but Mayor Schmoke." The two exchanged greetings and Jake advised the mayor he was going to keep pushing for foot patrolmen.

"I started to ask him if he could give me a ride home," Jake said. "Right across the street, at the corner of Pennsylvania [Avenue] and Bloom [Street], it was like ants out there with all the druggies."

Jake, being a nice guy, decided not to put the mayor on the spot. But if you can't embarrass your own mayor, who the heck can you embarrass?

Getting more cops out of cars and on the streets has been Jake the Snake's mission since he returned to Baltimore in 1990 after living 30 years in New York. In 1953, Jake became one of the first drivers for the Baltimore Transit Co., the forerunner of the Mass Transit Administration.

In 1958, he and three friends spotted an ad in the union paper for experienced bus drivers in San Francisco.

"We jumped into a car and drove out there," Jake said. "We arrived on a Sunday and got the jobs on a Tuesday."

Two years later, he and his family moved to New York. Through the years, Jake the Snake remembered those Baltimore beat cops who he swears kept law and order in his old neighborhood.

We can return to those days, Jake believes. To prove it, he cited Joe Mathews' story in The Sun Jan. 30 on Officer Will Narango, whose one-man patrolling of two Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods has resulted in a 22 percent crime drop in Carrollton Ridge and a 25 percent drop in New Southwest. Jake would like a Will Narango in his neighborhood.

"From Walbrook Junction to North Avenue I don't see a cop no place," Jake said of the walks he takes in his neighborhood. "If I get attacked, who am I gonna holler for?"

This may come as a surprise to Jake the Snake, but Frazier agrees with him about foot patrols. For Frazier, the problem is the cost.

"[Foot patrols] are probably the most personal and most effective way to deliver police service in a community-oriented way," Frazier said yesterday. "The downside is that they don't cover very much territory in a big city where even a bicycle gives you far more ability to be mobile. [They're] a good option as well. Basically I think they're [foot patrols] great things, just an incredibly expensive way to deliver police service."

And to cover that cost will mean a rise in taxes. Anybody for a tax hike, even for our own safety? I thought not.

Pub Date: 4/02/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.