Drugs: the city-suburban connection Traffic from counties helps foster crime, Baltimore police say

June 21, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Corrie Simpson wakes up every morning in a stone rancher outside Westminster and heads to Shipley Street and Fairmount Avenue, a drab pocket of sagging brick rowhouses and concrete front yards in Southwest Baltimore.

There, her boyfriend, Patrick Cook, 35, leans out of the 1984 Chevrolet and shouts to a stocky man wearing a red bandanna. "Any Ready?" he asks, using street-corner slang for crack cocaine. The seller nods. "Give me six."

The drugs are for Simpson, a 19-year-old former Glenelg High School student from western Howard County. "For what I do, you have to go to Baltimore to get it," the teen with shoulder-length, dark-blond hair said.

The drug scourge that has helped wreck city neighborhoods is fueled, police say, by people who live in the comfort of suburbia, immune from the daily violence that consumes inner-city streets and has claimed a generation of young men.

Now, police say, even with an estimated 55,000 addicts in Baltimore, the supply of heroin and cocaine far exceeds the demand. Business at some of the city's drug corners wouldn't be as brisk without middle-class buyers from places such as Glen Burnie, Dundalk and Sykesville.

"If you are on a corner and selling drugs, it means you shot someone for the right to stand there," said Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier. "If you live in the suburbs and come into the city to buy drugs, you have blood on your hands."

But police seem to be the only people doing something about it. The Sun accompanied officers on numerous stings over the past three months in which they posed as drug dealers and arrested nearly 100 people from Dundalk to Frederick and beyond.

A review of court files suggests, however, that few, if any, will go to prison. They are charged with trying to buy drugs, a rarely used misdemeanor offense that makes the act of asking for an illegal substance a crime.

City prosecutors -- who require a minimum seizure of 30 vials of crack to bring a felony drug charge -- often do not pursue the seemingly trivial charge. In December, an entire group of defendants arrested at an East Baltimore corner was sent home from court, their charges dismissed en masse without explanation.

Even the administrative judge of the Circuit Court, Joseph H. H. Kaplan, said he doesn't believe that police "are accomplishing anything" by arresting addicts.

Homeowners helpless

Yet officers continue their initiatives, delighting residents who live on streets overwhelmed by vacant and boarded houses, who helplessly watch more prosperous outsiders visit their Baltimore neighborhoods to feed their hunger for cocaine and heroin.

"These are viable taxpaying homeowners who have lived in their homes for years, and they are watching their neighborhood crash around them," said Maj. John L. Bergbower, commander of the Southwestern District. "They don't know what to do and they want us to do something about it."

The back doors of a police van swing open, and suburbanites -- shackled with plastic handcuffs -- are paraded to the van past some of the neatly kept rowhouses of North Denison Street near Edmondson Avenue.

Deborah Randall, a quarter-century resident of the once-thriving middle-class African-American neighborhood, offered a bemused smile as the stream of white faces marched past.

She had just returned from a bridal shower in a predominantly white area of North Baltimore, where, she said, "people watched every move we made. We were not wanted in that neighborhood, but they come down here to buy their drugs."

The blight from Edmondson Avenue -- drunks, addicts, dealers -- has spread to Denison Street, where vacant shells of houses are sandwiched between homes where children play, fathers mow small plots of grass and families hold cookouts.

In five sweeps by police this year in predominantly black neighborhoods of Southwest Baltimore, police arrested 110 people, 68 of them white. Of those from outside the city, 25 lived in Baltimore County; 23 in Anne Arundel; 15 in Howard; three in Carroll; two each in Prince George's and Montgomery; one in Frederick; and five out of state.

Bergbower wants a billboard on Washington Boulevard: "Welcome to Baltimore. If you are coming here to buy drugs, you might be buying from a police officer."

Some suburbanites say they come because the drugs are better. Others say they're cheaper. Sonya Price, a 27-year-old recovering heroin addict who lives in Southwest Baltimore's Shipley Hill, offers a simpler explanation. "They come to where the drugs are."

"It's the same way we know where to get the best steak or find the best bottle of wine," said Officer Kenneth Parks. "The addicts know where to get the best heroin or the best cocaine."

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