City housing police receive neighborhood arrest power Expansion allows officers to work beyond complexes

July 03, 1998|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

In an unprecedented expansion of local police authority, the Baltimore housing police will have the power to solve crimes and arrest people in any city neighborhood, instead of only at public housing complexes.

In effect, Baltimore will have another 100 police officers who would patrol the neighborhoods and aid the city Police Department in stemming crime.

Housing police officers, clad in gray shirts and black pants, will begin focusing on preventing burglaries, robberies and drug dealing. Until now, housing authority police could only act on crimes committed at public housing sites.

"It adds more eyes and ears on the streets," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday. "Both police departments will have the same power."

This week, Schmoke participated in a ride-along with police officers that took him to three shootings and showed him the grimy, crime-ridden side of Baltimore that he rarely gets a chance to witness. He said the broadening of powers for the housing police had been in the works and was not pegged to his ride-along.

The expansion further broadens the considerable power and influence of Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, who commands the sworn 100-member housing police department and is a key force in most of the political decisions made in the city.

The housing and police departments stepped up negotiations this week on how to work together. Both receive the same training.

Housing police officers have felt hampered in efforts to fight crime because of the geographical boundaries that forced the officers to call city officers if they saw a crime off public housing grounds.

"If a drug dealer standing across [the] street [from a public housing project] was dealing drugs, there was nothing we could do except call city police," said Chief Hezekiah Bunch of the Housing Authority Police. "What they would do is go across the street and stand on the corner, and it would be business as usual."

City police said the housing police will help them to respond to other calls more quickly.

"It's a win-win situation, both for the citizens and the departments," said city police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr.

Mary Holmes, president of Murphy Homes Tenant Council, hailed the addition of police in her neighborhood. "I'm not saying that they aren't doing a good job, but the Baltimore City Police Department needs all the help it can get," she said.

Bunch said housing police already are in many neighborhoods because public housing units -- aside from the large complexes -- are scattered around the city.

Housing police will not write parking tickets or deal with speeders, he said. Investigations of more serious crimes, such as homicide and rape, will be left to city police units, Bunch said.

Pub Date: 7/03/98

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