Essex takes a shine to police work Grateful neighborhood washes cars, serves pit beef to show appreciation

July 26, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Dean Jones didn't mind grabbing a sudsy mitt yesterday and soaping up the light bar atop a Baltimore County police officer's patrol car.

"They cleaned up our neighborhood, we'll clean up their cars," said Jones, a resident of the 300 block of Nicholson Road.

Jones was among dozens of neighbors in the Essex community who washed cars and served up pit beef in appreciation of police efforts to run drug dealers and unruly neighbors out of their community.

The neighborhood threw the block party to thank the police for the June 11 raid of four houses that resulted in nine drug arrests. After the raids, tenants in three of the trouble spots moved out.

"The police always get blasted and they do such an excellent job and we wanted to show them we all appreciated what they did," said Don Crockett, a neighbor who organized the party. "It was just to thank the Police Department."

Neighbors said that about a year ago, some houses were rented to suspected drug users. Also troubling to residents was a rowdy new tenant.

"The woman would stand in the middle of the street screaming obscenities" for no apparent reason, said Cindy Bode, a resident for 13 years.

Then there were the cars -- lots of them -- that stopped for short periods, and the same woman hanging out on the street, flagging down cars, Crockett said.

Said Regina Sullivan, who started a block watch in April: "It was just totally taking over our lives. We felt like we had to sit on our porches and protect our property. We knew we had to do something about it."

Sullivan and her husband gathered the neighbors for a block watch meeting and soon after, most of them started taking notes on the suspicious activity. In May, nearly 50 of them showed up for a police community-relations meeting seeking help. Capt. Jim Johnson, commander of the Essex Precinct, promised to make the neighborhood a priority.

Police and neighbors developed a plan and detectives in the Community Drug Violence Interdiction Team soon began conducting surveillance.

About five weeks later, the detectives had gathered enough information to send 50 officers to the four houses on a rainy Thursday night.

Officers said they seized heroin, cocaine and drug paraphernalia.

"This was a serious problem for this community," Johnson said, adding that neighbors were quick to help police. "Their patience and their commitment to gathering information made a difference."

After the raid, Johnson said, police met with the landlords and "convinced them it was in their best interest to consider whether they wanted to continue these leases."

Although the nine suspects arrested were quickly released, three of them, to neighbors' delight, moved out within a week. That, neighbors say, is cause for celebration.

And police said they appreciated the sentiment.

"I'm touched as a commander by the show of appreciation and it makes a difference to the officers in the Essex Precinct," Johnson said.

He later told residents, "I can't think of a time I've been more pleased with the community and with the job."

Lt. Robert Schmidt, who led the raids, said that he appreciated the neighborhood thank you, but that the party has more significance for the community.

"I think it's going to help solidify the community and send a message to the undesirables," he said. "The neighbors have stuck together and let people know they're not going to tolerate this behavior."

Pub Date: 7/26/98

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