Community crime fighters battle fallout from drugs

August 08, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

"NO DRUG sales!" the members of the crowd -- 10 to 15 children, a smattering of adults and three Baltimore sheriff's deputies -- chanted as they marched east on Baltimore Street to the corner of Highland Avenue.

It was a mild Tuesday evening, sunny, around seven-ish. Other members of this East Baltimore community stood on the four corners of the intersection. These were the law-abiding ones, the ones who had come to this National Night Out Against Crime to say they had had enough of the drug dealers, the addicts and the crime they bring.

On the northeast corner of Baltimore and Highland, community members handed out free hot dogs and punch. Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier stood nearby, chatting it up with neighborhood residents. Soon he was expounding his philosophy of policing.

"Ninety-three percent of our police academy cadets wash out," Frazier said, adding that he is looking for officers who want to serve the people, not just lock people up.

"I can't have drive-fast, lock 'em up, '60s kind of cops," the commissioner continued. "I want police officers with the spirit of service, not the spirit of adventure."

How effective can police be when over 80 percent of crime is drug-related, I asked him.

"You have 59,000 addicts," Frazier answered. "If you're an addict, you've got to steal $1,500 of somebody's something everyday. You can't arrest your way out of it. There's no way you can arrest the city out of this dilemma. We've got to prevent and treat our way out of it."

Such is the dilemma we have with drug addicts. Arresting them doesn't work. Jailing them doesn't work. Our democratic traditions and common human decency prevent us from tying them to trees and shooting them between the eyes. But while we wait for that day when our politicians pass laws declaring that drug possession is no longer a crime and allocate the necessary money for treatment, the common folks will suffer.

Lori Thomas, who sends her three children to Our Lady of Pompei School on South Conkling Street, complained of the drug dealing near the school.

It's "so bad they're starting to hit the people coming out of bingo," Thomas said, explaining that "hit" meant robbing for drug money.

"I went to pick up my son the last day of school," Thomas continued. "There were two guys walking behind me. One of them said, 'Let's get her. I have to go to court anyway.' "

Another woman who didn't want to be identified said that addicts routinely spray graffiti on the walls near her property, defecate in the alley and break her fence repeatedly.

"I'm tired of it," she said. "You get tired of it. I can't go on like this."

It is for such people that Victor Glad started a Community on Patrol organization two years ago. Glad couldn't be at Tuesday night's rally. He's in the hospital with cancer. But John Nash, a COP member who helped organize the National Night Out event, dedicated the evening to Glad. On hand to accept a certificate was Glad's wife, Mary. Their daughter, Melinda Conti, and 10-year-old granddaughter, Ashley Conti, fought back tears.

"He thought that everybody should get together and go around the neighborhood and see what's going down," Mary Glad said of her husband's reason for starting COP. Her 69-year-old husband spent 18 years working for Thompson Steel Co. on North Point Road after serving 21 years in the Army.

"He's somebody who goes after what he wants," added Melinda Conti.

Victor Glad would go out from 8 p.m. to midnight, cruising the neighborhood and calling police on his cellular phone whenever he saw suspicious activity. Wasn't he afraid, I asked Mary Glad and Melinda Conti.

"He wasn't afraid of nobody," Melinda Conti said proudly.

"Not really," Mary Glad added. "We used to go out together sometimes. We'd park in an area that was dark and see what was going on."

Nick Bassetti, a COP member who lives south of Baltimore Street, was not as lucky. He said about a dozen guys surrounded his car last year and threatened his life for being a COP member. Nash lives north of Baltimore Street and said he's received the same threat. Neither man is deterred by the threats. Earlier in the evening, Bassetti took a microphone and urged residents to unite and drive drug dealers from the neighborhood. Nash vowed not to give up the fight.

"I'm staying," he asserted. "They're not running me out of my home."

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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