Council sets hearing on illegal pay phones

Session will investigate their effect on city's drug trafficking business

May 11, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Members of the City Council will hold a hearing next week to investigate the number of illegal pay phones throughout Baltimore and their impact on drug dealing.

Northeast Councilman Martin O'Malley called yesterday for the session of the council's Legislative Investigations Committee in reaction to an editorial published in The Sun on Sunday that criticized the city for allowing the phones.

The report showed that one of Baltimore's most infamous drug corners, Monroe Street and Lafayette Avenue in West Baltimore, has six pay phones, none of which received the necessary city approvals before being installed.

Companies installing pay phones are required to gain several approvals, including minor privilege permits and authorization to make necessary electrical connections.

Permits have been granted for 626 pay phones in Baltimore. Another 1,000 are believed to exist unlawfully, many in high-crime areas.

"This is an abomination," said O'Malley, the council's most vocal critic of Baltimore's crime-fighting strategies. "This is obscene in a city that has seen expanded open-air drug dealing."

Baltimore is the nation's fourth most-deadly city, counting 314 homicides last year. Police attribute many of the homicides to disputes over drug dealing. City Health Department officials say one of every eight adults in Baltimore is a drug addict.

O'Malley called on fellow council members to hold back on approving loans needed to keep the city running next year until the illegal pay phones are removed.

"Who owns these pay phones, and who has been making money off these phones?" O'Malley asked. "We're the chumps that allow them to keep the phones down there."

West Baltimore Councilwoman Sheila Dixon said she was heading to a community meeting last night to discuss the problem.

Residents near the drug corners have made repeated complaints and received no response, according to The Sun report.

"Communities are fighting and trying to address this issue in the city," Dixon said.

If the city administration will not attack the problem, the council must force the matter, O'Malley said.

The investigations committee will meet at 2: 30 p.m. May 20.

"I just want those pay phones out of there," O'Malley said.

In other action, the council introduced legislation last night that would grant a franchise to Flight Systems Cablevision to conduct, operate and maintain a cable communications system at the Inner Harbor.

The council also observed a moment of silence to acknowledge the death of Melvin S. Laszczynski, the council's volunteer sergeant-at-arms for 27 years. Laszczynski, a Highlandtown resident who died Saturday, witnessed more than 1,000 council meetings. His chair in the first seat of the front row was left empty and draped in black yesterday.

Pub Date: 5/11/99

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