Police give residents tour of district

Northern bus ride part of city's efforts in community policing

May 21, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

After a blessing by Deacon Lynwood Wimbish of Wilson Park Christian Community Church, the bus carting 50 community leaders left the old Hampden headquarters at seven minutes after 7. Spirits were high as a cowbell clanged to call for silence.

The host of the Wednesday-night whistle-stop tour of Baltimore's Northern District, police Maj. Robert Biemiller made it clear the spring-night spin was not just for fun. "What are we collectively going to do to get the job done?" he asked.

Since crime can cross boundaries, the idea was to take people beyond their neighborhoods to show how the district's parts fit together.

The tour of the district's 14 square miles, which crisscrossed into the best and worst of urban landscapes, is the latest way to practice Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier's community policing philosophy, explained Biemiller, who is known as a goodwill ambassador after being appointed district commander less than a year ago.

At the front was Robert Nowlin, 60, a blind man from Pen Lucy whose cheer didn't seem dampened by a recent pair of homicides in his community. "It was their attempt to take the community back over," said Nowlin, speaking of drug dealers.

When told the bus was close to home, he announced loudly, "A lot of parents are in cahoots with their children," suggesting adults collude in drug trafficking.

Biemiller introduced the lieutenant in charge of that area, Thomas Grimes, and told the group, "It's his mission in life to make Pen Lucy safe."

As part of a new "sector management" program, lieutenants have more responsibility and are expected to be closely acquainted with local problem-solvers -- and trouble-makers.

In the Woodbourne McCabe area, where children rode bicycles at dusk, Sgt. Jack Kincaid pointed out a sinister sign: a pair of shoes strung on an overhead power line.

It's "an intelligence sign" that's still being decoded, Biemiller explained. It might mean a homicide -- "the most difficult [crime] to deploy for," he added.

Next stop was a youth crime-prevention program, a Police Athletic League center on a green expanse on Ivanhoe Avenue, plenty busy at 8: 30 p.m. Some passengers expressed surprise at the late hours -- up to 10 p.m. -- kept by the center for children and teens.

Swinging through Belvedere off York Road, Biemiller said the "drunken stupidity" of college students were the main police problems there, a remark that drew a few amens.

An object lesson in the importance of aggressively "engaging" criminals was Pimlico Road, the dividing line between the Northern and Northwestern districts, which Biemiller said is another drug-infested area where it is all too easy to move the drug problem back and forth.

For many, the experience was eye-opening. "You see all these things, you think, `My problems aren't so big,' " said Wendy Kronmiller, president of the Abell Avenue Improvement Association.

Also along the ride was a much talked-about site: the empty drugstore building in Remington where, Biemiller said, police would eventually move in.

South Charles Village and Harwood were identified as especially vulnerable in the neighborhood patchwork. "Harwood needs all the help it can get," said Morgan Allyn of the Charles Village Benefits District, pointing out several empty rowhouses. Speed bumps on the street and an outdoor camera on the grounds of the Dallas F. Nicolas Sr. Elementary School were pointed out as two new effective crime-fighting tools.

Heading back to Hampden, Biemiller said West 36th Street, the main avenue there, had undergone a revival that could set an excellent example of urban renaissance. "There's a lot of people on the street and a different kind of customer," he said.

Back at the Victorian station house over refreshments, people traded thoughts and introduced themselves. Generally, the outing was judged an "outstanding success," said Nowlin.

"It was a great idea," said Kronmiller, "to see how diverse, how extensive it is."

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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