Fighting the drug problem together

Residents, police, politicians clean streets one at a time

October 15, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

In the wake of rampant drug activity on Westminster's west side, residents, police, prosecutors and politicians have taken up a united fight to rid the area of dealers and addicts -- one street at a time.

A check of police reports, court files and recent indictments by a Carroll County grand jury showed the same streets and, in some instances, the same addresses keep appearing in drug activity: Sullivan, Pennsylvania, Kemper and Wimert avenues, and Union, West Main, Green, Liberty and Carroll streets.

In nine drug-related indictments handed up by the grand jury last week, seven people were charged for possession and distribution of cocaine or marijuana. All live within a block or two of Pennsylvania Avenue and West Main Street.

Police say they have been investigating drug activity on the west side at least since April, when the drug unit enlisted help from the county's Narcotics Task Force, a cooperative effort of state police and the sheriff's office, and began "Operation Sullivan."

This covert operation stemmed from residents' complaints about open-air drug dealing in front of their children and was named for Sullivan Avenue, where police believed drug infestation was greatest.

Many arrests

In August, the operation surfaced publicly when about 20 people, including four juveniles, were arrested during raids, mainly on Sullivan and Wimert avenues.

As soon as those raids were completed, undercover state troopers took to the streets in a reverse operation, offering to sell drugs so they could gather additional intelligence.

Five people, including two who were accused of being high-level marijuana and cocaine suppliers, were arrested last month during four simultaneous raids.

One 33-year-old man, who was charged with possession of crack cocaine and marijuana and released on $15,000 bail, was arrested again last week on similar charges.

That revelation did not surprise residents living near Pennsylvania Avenue and West Main Street who, fearing retaliation, spoke on condition of anonymity.

One man said he began calling police "at least six months ago." He said he regularly watches drug sales on front steps or in alleys.

"The dealers have sentries riding bicycles and, if a police car drives into the neighborhood, they alert the dealers before the police actually see the dealers," the man said.

Keep watch

Capt. Dean Brewer, a police spokesman, said residents should continue to watch and call whenever they see suspicious activity.

"We haven't made these arrests and decided the battle is won," said Brewer. "Undercover officers have a good idea of what's happening and who the dealers are. Most of the buyers are local, but we're seeing more outsiders coming into the city, many of them from Baltimore where the drug suppliers are."

Some say police are not doing enough. "I call and a police car drives up the front street soon enough, but by then the dealers are selling their drugs in the alley," one neighborhood resident said.

"Even when the police do their job, the courts let them right back out to keep selling their drugs," the resident said.

Task force formed

Last week, a citizens group of about 20 met at a resident's home and formed the Westside Community Task Force. Three Westminster Common Council members attended.

Westminster Councilman Gregory Pecoraro called the citizens' meeting "positive" and "informative."

"The concerns of the residents and specific things they want were discussed," Pecoraro said.

One specific desire is that the city crack down on landlords who are renting apartments to drug dealers and addicts.

Pecoraro said the city has begun contacting certain landlords in a move to force them to evict known drug dealers.

"The whole area needs revitalization," said one woman, a homeowner. "The concentration of decaying buildings erodes property values and discourages homeowners from farther investment. Homeowners are not keeping up their properties and are partly to blame. But the city has no livability code and the county does a pathetic job of enforcing its livability code."

Community cleanup

Pecoraro said the city is also looking at code enforcement to clean up the west side.

"It's a matter of building trust," said Councilman Kevin E. Dayoff, referring to the citizens' meeting to discuss concerns. "Confusing the issues won't help anyone."

On Oct. 30, city officials and work crews will take to the streets and alleys, cleaning the west-side neighborhood of trash and debris. They hope property owners will join them.

Pecoraro said the cleanup day is intended to build community pride, a symbol that a cooperative effort can "clean up the other problems as well."

"It's a community problem and won't go away overnight," he said. "We all need to work hard forever, not just for a year or two, to get a handle on the drug problem and cut it back."

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