Alvin H. Johnson, 70, urged police foot patrols

December 17, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Alvin H. "Jake the Snake" Johnson, a strong advocate for police officers on foot patrol who was frequently heard on radio talk shows, died Sunday of cancer at his West Baltimore home.

Mr. Johnson, 70, who lived in the Coppin Heights community off North Avenue, seemed to never miss an opportunity to quiz politicians about why there weren't more foot patrol officers.

In recent years, usually in casual settings, he broached the idea to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier. He pleaded his case to anyone who would listen.

"That was just the way he was," said Kenneth Johnson, a friend and former neighbor. "When he had something in his mind, he went all out for it."

In addition to calling radio talk shows, Mr. Johnson wrote opinion letters to local newspapers.

If he saw something wrong in his neighborhood, Mr. Johnson was quick to call police, friends and relatives said. "He'd say, 'I'm not going to have this, not in my neighborhood,' " said his daughter, Deborah Johnson of Baltimore.

Mr. Johnson frequently told friends how it was when he grew up near Druid Hill Avenue and Wilson Street in the 1930s and 1940s, when officers walked the streets and crime was lower.

"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," Mr. Johnson said in an interview with The Sun this year.

"If they knew or had an idea a cop was walking the street, the criminal would have a second thought."

A native of Baltimore, Mr. Johnson attended Douglass High School and served in the Army from 1945 to 1946. He was stationed in Germany and received a World War II Victory Ribbon.

He returned to Baltimore upon his discharge and became one of the first black bus drivers for the Baltimore Transit Co. (now the Mass Transit Administration), for which he worked from 1953 to 1958.

He lived in San Francisco, where he was also a bus driver, from 1958 to 1960. From 1960 to 1984, he was an driver for the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority. He returned to Baltimore in 1991.

Mr. Johnson attended jazz and after-hours clubs in Baltimore, especially the Arch Social Club and the old Sphinx Club and Papa's Place on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Friends said he earned the "Jake the Snake" moniker years ago because of his snappy attire and his smooth talking. He was also the dancer most admired by most patrons.

"He liked being around people, being the center of attention," said Nollie Joyner, a longtime friend. "When he was on the floor [dancing], everyone would say 'Jake the Snake, Jake the Snake.' "

"He was a man of the town who everybody knew," his daughter said. "Everybody knew Jake the Snake. I couldn't go to a club without him either being there or everybody knowing him."

Services are scheduled for 10: 30 a.m. tomorrow at Sharon Baptist Church, 1373 N. Stricker St. in West Baltimore.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife, the former Doris Amanda Pettigrew, whom he married in 1948; a son, Van Johnson of Baltimore; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

Pub Date: 12/17/97

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