Police focus on violent drug gangs in sweeps

35 arrests last week

next phase to include neighborhood cleanups

August 02, 1999|By Gary Dorsey | Gary Dorsey,SUN STAFF

Determined to stamp out drug-related violence in troubled city neighborhoods, police say they plan to continue the kind of sweeps that led to 35 arrests last week in Northwest and East Baltimore.

The latest anti-drug effort -- part of Operation Cease Fire -- led to 13 arrests Friday in a Northwest community where a Baptist minister was shot to death two weeks ago., "We're here to tell you that if you employ violence as part of your drug trade, you've just come to the top of our stack," Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said Friday at a news conference at Northwestern District. "You will see more of these [organized arrests] in the very near future."

Police said they shattered the organization of two drug groups in East Baltimore with a similar sweep Wednesday in which 22 people were charged.

Friday's sweep revealed one part of an overall strategy that builds an unusual phalanx of support for Baltimore's police from other agencies, including federal drug officers, state's and U.S. attorneys' offices, and officials in the city's departments of public works and housing.

The next stage of the plan for these neighborhoods will begin this month, with a widespread cleanup, as city crews clean alleys, clear trash from streets, and raze or board up abandoned houses.

"We have a great partnership with people in the Northwest," Frazier said. "The community is saying, `We won't put up with this any more.' We're getting good cooperation."

The new strategy is the brainchild of Harvard criminologist David Kennedy, who has studied Baltimore's drug organizations and violent crime patterns for the past 18 months.

The new pattern of arrests, police say, reflects a customized blueprint for quelling violent crime in the city.

Kennedy's plan for Baltimore is similar to one he created for Boston, which has had notable success reducing its violent crime rate.

Frazier said the fatal shooting of the Rev. Junior Lee Gamble was not the impetus for the sweep in Park Heights and Pimlico neighborhoods. He added that his officers have made quick progress in that case and expect to make an arrest soon.

Gamble, 73, pastor of Bibleway Free Will Baptist Church, was killed July 15 in front of his home in the 2800 block of Quantico Ave., off Reisterstown Road. Police believe robbery was the motive. Gamble's killing was the fifth in Park Heights last month, part of an escalation of violence in the area.

The new strategy embraced by police allows prosecutors to go before a grand jury and request a high bail before the arrest.

That way, most suspects cannot afford to return to the streets before trial and police can use a potentially lengthy stretch of jail time to encourage people to provide details about homicides and shootings.

Bails set in Friday's arrests ranged from $25,000 to $1.5 million.

"With this, we've got a hammer in our hands," said Lt. Richard Long of the Violent Crimes Task Force, who helped lead Friday's sweep. "You call a suspect in for a debriefing, you say, `Guess what? You won't see a court commissioner. You've got a high bond.' If they don't cooperate, we let them sit in jail, and we'll just wait until they're ready."

Police made 22 arrests in April, which Long described as the first phase of their operation in Northwestern District. All of those suspects have remained in jail with bonds ranging from $25,000 to $3.5 million.

Since April, law enforcement officials have gained 38 grand jury indictments, made more than 300 arrests, and seized more than 50 firearms in Northwestern District.

Pub Date: 8/02/99

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