Police to convert 4 Winnebagos into mobile anti-crime weapons Computer-laden vans set for empowerment zone

November 20, 1997|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's newest weapons in the war against crime, four Winnebagos that have been converted to police vans, are being lauded by city residents as a step toward revitalizing neighborhoods beset by violence.

The shiny, new Winnebagos will be deployed in the city's federally designated empowerment zone in the next two weeks to "bring the police to the people," Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said yesterday at a news conference in South Baltimore's Carroll Park.

"I think it's a great idea," said Prangle Brown, a resident of Poppleton in West Baltimore, one neighborhood where vans will be used.

"You park that van in any neighborhood that's got a drug problem, your problem will be solved," Brown said.

The Winnebagos cost $75,000 each and are clearly marked as police vehicles.

Each van will be staffed by a police sergeant and a community police officer at least 40 hours per week, according to Officer Angelique Cook-Hayes, a police spokeswoman.

"These vehicles were specifically purchased for the empowerment zone," said Cook-Hayes. "They are the first of their kind. Unlike police substations, the vans can be moved from one location to another."

Each van is equipped with a mobile telephone, digital computer, police radio and small conference room.

The computers enable officers to check criminal records and monitor 311 and 911 calls.

"The technical equipment is what sets the Winnebagos apart from our smaller vans, which are basically used to show police presence in a neighborhood," said Cook-Hayes.

The Winnebagos will be stationed in high-crime areas of the empowerment zone, which encompasses impoverished sections in East, West and South Baltimore, Frazier said.

Funding for the vans and the community police officers assigned to them came from an Empowerment Zone grant, according to Michael W. Preston, spokesman for Empower Baltimore Management Corp.

The corporation oversees the distribution of $100 million in federal block grants, which were awarded to Baltimore in December 1994 to help remake the city.

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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