Churches sign on as officers' partners

Police, residents to walk through area to stop crime

May 10, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police commanders have begun urging officers on the city's east side to abandon their patrol cars and stroll through neighborhoods with residents to enlist their help to fight crime.

Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier told church and community leaders Friday that whenever patrol officers are not busy with emergency calls, they should be walking, preferably with one of them.

"There are times of day when officers are not in a car," Frazier said from the front steps of Zion Baptist Church on North Caroline Street. "They should team up with somebody, walk up and down the street and say hello. We are part of the community."

The initiative is part of a new partnership between police and 85 churches in East Baltimore that sponsor several anti-crime groups whose members walk through neighborhoods with two-way radios.

The Rev. Melvin B. Tuggle II, president of Clergy United for Renewal of East Baltimore, said nothing works better to prevent crime than a foot patrolman "so people can see the police."

Crime has dropped in Baltimore for three straight years, and police report that it is down more than 30 percent during the first three months of this year. But the city, with 314 homicides last year, was rated the fourth-deadliest in the nation per capita.

"I don't want to be on the news at the end of the year with Baltimore being No. 4 in homicide," said Sam Redd, director of People United to Live in a Safe Environment (PULSE). "I want Baltimore to look like Boston or New York, where police and clergy work together to bring crime down."

The city is off to a promising start. As of yesterday, 82 homicides had been reported since Jan. 1, down from 110 at the same time last year, about a 25 percent drop. But the drop did not satisfy the groups that gathered with police Friday.

Redd, standing between a group of youngsters from Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School and senior citizens, told how his parents made him scrub the marble steps of their rowhouse every Saturday morning.

"In the afternoon, we would sit on the steps we had cleaned," he said. "We didn't have to worry about a car slowing down and someone leaning out with a gun and shooting our children. Now, our children cannot walk up and down the street."

After the speeches, the block watchers dispersed, each linking with officers who took them through the back alleys and vacant rowhouses that are the center of the city's drug trade.

Ralph Underwood, 54, has lived in Northeast Baltimore for 22 years but travels to East Baltimore to help PULSE. He shook his head as he was driven past boarded-up homes and debris-strewn street corners. A church sign read: "Years of building God's Kingdom." Nearby graffiti countered: "Holbrook Hell."

"A lot of devastation," Underwood said.

The officers he was with, Steven Staab and Gregory Young, drove down East Preston Street, packed with people, and stopped. By the time they had gotten out of the patrol car, a man had yelled a warning, scattering the crowd.

"Now that we get out to walk, no one's here," Young said.

Pub Date: 5/10/99

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