Police focus on selected criminals under plan

Emphasis is on those causing most violence

August 18, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The police report that officially records the death of Kenneth Wayne Jones lays out a simple story: he was shot several times Monday night by two men as he stood on South Poppleton Street.

But how Jones, a 50-year-old convicted drug dealer released from prison 10 months ago, became the city's 160th murder victim of 1999 is a complicated tale. It fits a standard story line of Baltimore violence -- a deadly pattern of multiple arrests, drug deals and guns.

"You die by the way you live," said Robert Lee Dunham, 73, who owns a rowhouse on the block where Jones was last arrested in May. "If you live by drugs, there are only two places you can end up: dead or in jail."

As Dunham chatted with neighbors and children ran toy cars in front of a string of boarded-up rowhouses across the street, top law enforcement officials took turns at a podium in a downtown office announcing the latest plan to end violence in Baltimore.

Harvard criminologist David Kennedy studied the city's murder culture for 18 months and concluded that a small number of people are responsible for the majority of crime. Come down hard on those people, he said, and shootings will drop.

Kennedy argues investigators who quickly dismiss shootings as part of a violent culture miss the true motives that might help them comprehend the underlying cause. Every shooting, he said, is done for a reason that can be understood, and therefore prevented.

Shifting focus

Under the plan, police will target a select group of individuals who call attention to themselves by engaging in violence. When one person in a drug group shoots someone, local, state and federal authorities will pounce on everyone and make sure they are prosecuted.

The Rev. Douglas I. Miles, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, called the Operation Safe Neighborhoods initiative long overdue.

"We will draw a line in the concrete and take back our neighborhoods, one block at a time," he said.

Jones' killing is an example of the tough road ahead. In a crime weary city, his death got no mention on the evening news. Detectives reported no arrests and no motive. No news conference was held to update the public on the investigation. No angry pronouncement came from City Hall.

`Core criminals'

Though he spent nearly half his life behind bars for dealing heroin, Jones, if he were alive, probably would not meet the threshold of the top 4,000 "core criminals" identified by Kennedy to justify special attention under his plan, officials said.

But Jones fits the profile of a typical victim: well-acquainted with the criminal justice system and linked to the city's flourishing drug trade.

Kennedy said that 60 percent of the city's killings involve people connected somehow to narcotics, and each victim had been arrested on average more than eight times before being slain.

Jones' criminal record dates back to the late 1960s, when he spent eight years in prison for two burglaries.

In 1974, he was put away for 24 years for selling heroin out of his Woodlawn apartment. He was off city streets until 1995, when he was first paroled.

He was sent back to prison after being charged with assault. He was released again in 1996, but returned a short time later when police charged him with hitting his girlfriend. Neither of those charges stuck, and he was released in September 1998.

In May, he came to police attention on West Lexington Street, where detectives said he took over a vacant rowhouse around the corner from the home of Edgar Allan Poe.

Police said they broke down a steel-reinforced door on May 7, arrested Jones and seized suspected marijuana, cocaine and packaging materials.

Charges of drug distribution were pending at the time of Jones' death, which occurred about 11: 30 p.m. on South Poppleton, across from a makeshift carwash business near West Baltimore Street.

All that remained yesterday was a pile of yellow police line tape and two pairs of blue surgical gloves left from paramedics who tried to keep Jones' name off the lengthy list of killings. Six faded chalk circles note where shell casings were found.

A man working at the carwash said he heard the shots. But he doesn't know anything else. "You hear gunshots, you run away," he said.

Jones lived on the city's west side, in the 1000 block of W. Lanvale St. He had been dating the daughter of Christine Jeffries, 69, who lives there but said she knew nothing about Jones. "I don't get into other people's business," Jeffries said.

Drop in killings

Killings are down 20 percent in Baltimore this year -- the first time this decade they could fall below 300. A happy Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke made sure to note the drop at yesterday's news conference, saying that Kennedy's plan will build on existing programs that have helped to lower crime.

The new focus will be to prevent shootings like the one that ended Jones' life. It is a task called difficult, but not impossible, by officials who see Kennedy's plan as a fresh way to attack a problem that has made Baltimore the nation's fourth deadliest city per capita.

"One homicide in Baltimore is one homicide too many," said Patricia C. Jessamy, the city's top prosecutor.

Pub Date: 8/18/99

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