Shooting worries Mount Vernon businesses

Owners criticize police for reducing foot patrols along Charles Street

July 29, 1999|By Tom Pelton and Gary Dorsey | Tom Pelton and Gary Dorsey,SUN STAFF

The morning after a gunbattle sent restaurant patrons in historic Mount Vernon diving for cover, business owners complained that a reduction in police foot patrols on North Charles Street has made the area feel less safe.

Police said the shooting of a 19-year-old Southwest Baltimore man by an undercover drug investigator at 9 p.m. Tuesday does not reflect crime rates in the neighborhood around the Walters Art Gallery. Crime there is down about 24 percent this year, they said.

But that did not satisfy Napoleon Zaharopoulos, owner of Gampy's restaurant in the 900 block of N. Charles St., which had two bullet holes in its facade yesterday. One was a foot above a window behind which customers were eating when several shots rang out.

"There are not as many police foot patrols here as in the past, and we need them so that people will not be afraid to walk and drive downtown," said Zaharopoulos, who said he has seen a rise in drug dealing and panhandling near his restaurant in recent months.

Institutions surrounding the 19th-century mansions of Mount Vernon plan to spend $300 million over the next few years renovating the Walters, Peabody Institute and Enoch Pratt Free Library and improving other buildings.

The Police Department shifted crime-fighting strategies in January to focus more officers in crime hot spots, said Maj. Steve McMahon, commander of the Central District.

This shift may have taken foot patrols off relatively quiet and safe Charles Street, but it increased the number of officers working in the sector, McMahon said. This might have contributed to a decrease in the number of drug-dealing complaints received by police, he said.

"The officers are still in the area, but they are just not walking up and down Charles Street," said McMahon. "Instead of having officers where nothing is going on, the officers are where the crime hot spots are."

Nick Stamatiadis, owner of the Never on Sunday restaurant in the 800 block of N. Charles St., said that such an important area of the city deserves better police protection.

"The reason the drug dealers are here now is because the police have taken the foot patrolmen off of Charles Street," said Stamatiadis, who was behind the cash register when at least four shots rang out.

The gunfire erupted when undercover officers started talking to a group of men they thought were dealing or buying drugs in a parking lot across from Gampy's, police said.

Police said one of the men ran when the officers identified themselves.

The man pulled a handgun and fired several times, police said. Officers fired back, chasing him south on Charles Street to Read Street, where he dropped his gun and continued east on Read, police said.

"It was like the OK Corral around here -- pop! pop! pop! pop! Anybody could have gotten killed," said Cedric Howard, the chef at Gampy's. "The customers all hit the floor."

One of the officers shot the man in the arm, then caught and arrested him.

John Allen Mac Jr. of the 2500 block of Hollins St. was in good condition and under police guard yesterday at Johns Hospital Hospital, according to police and a hospital spokesman.

No charges had been filed by last night.

The Internal Affairs unit will investigate the shooting, police said.

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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