Officers block off area known for drug traffic Police presence in West Baltimore meant to deter dealers

September 20, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

With an unprecedented police blockade this weekend, residents of the 2900 and 3000 blocks of Westwood Ave. in West Baltimore got a respite, however temporary, from the open-air drug trafficking that has become a part of their neighborhood's routine.

Since Friday evening, uniformed officers in marked police cars stationed at three intersections have barred anyone who does not live in the neighborhood or is not visiting someone there.

That left Joe Downing's front stoop void of the usual loiterers.

The alleys were empty of people lining up to buy drugs, leaving plenty of room for children to play catch.

And for the first night in a long time, Temple and Leola Bates weren't subjected to the thumping bass of powerful stereos in cars cruising the street, one block south of North Avenue.

"I would like to see them [police] sit out there for a whole month," said Temple Bates, 73, who, with his wife, is a 45-year resident of the 2900 block of Westwood Ave.

The blockade is scheduled to end at midnight tonight. A weekend of constant police presence may be enough to persuade at least some dealers to relocate permanently, according to Maj. John L. Bergbower, commander of the Southwestern District.

"We've been using strategies to look at drug dealing as a business, and with any business, if you don't have a customer base, you simply don't have a business," Bergbower said. "It will BTC shut it down and disrupt it for a given period of time."

The area closed off this weekend and surrounding blocks have had three homicides and eight nonfatal shootings, all likely drug-related, since January, Bergbower said.

Some residents expect the sellers and buyers to be back soon after police leave, but they were glad for at least a weekend of relief.

"After working and struggling to pay for this little piece of shack, I have the right to go sit out there in peace and quiet," said Bates, a retired longshoreman.

Instead of enjoying peace and quiet, the Bateses, like other residents of the blocks, have become accustomed to the sights and sounds of drug trafficking.

From his porch across the street from the Bates' house, Downing, 72, can see the lookouts on both blocks who usually alert dealers with a call of "Five-O" when they spot police.

He also watches as 50 to 60 people flock to the alley behind his house when the "cookie man," the man with the drugs, shows up.

A retired truck driver for the U.S. Postal Service who raised a son and daughter in his house, Downing marvels at the boldness of traffickers.

"They don't have respect for the neighborhood," he said. "On a day when the police aren't around, they'll come right up here in their cars and do the sniffing, and you can see the transactions."

Aside from saying "excuse me" to get the loiterers on his stoop to move when he comes home, Downing said he doesn't bother those involved in the drug trade, and they don't bother him.

But Temple Bates is on their case from dawn until dusk.

"I give them a fit for standing on the corner," Bates said. "I'm out there at 6:30 every morning. That's when they start."

"No drug dealing on that corner," said Leola Bates, 70, mimicking her husband's scolding.

Pub Date: 9/20/98

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