Nighttime patrols by police, city employees curbing criminal activity in Baltimore's parks

67 citations written one weekend last month

November 01, 1999|By Dave Foster | Dave Foster,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Just because summer's over, don't think it will be easier to tiptoe through Baltimore's parks after hours.

Baltimore police, in conjunction with the city Department of Recreation and Parks, have announced plans to continue indefinitely a strict nighttime enforcement effort launched in June to curb criminal activity in city parks.

In one of the first significant post-summer sweeps, Baltimore police, working with members of the Park Patrol, wrote 67 criminal citations -- mostly for trespassing -- and made two arrests in the city's 19 main parks one weekend last month.

In Druid Hill Park, patrol members found a man and woman parked in a remote area with marijuana packaged for distribution and an illegal handgun on a seat of the car. The man and woman, whose names were not available, were arrested.

Porsha Harris, a Park Patrol member, said the program appears to be working. Since its inception, the average number of arrests and citations has decreased from 30 to about 23 per week.

"It makes us feel what we are doing is justified when we prevent a potentially dangerous situation," Harris said.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by community members and groundskeeping staff that frequent the parks. Tony Moore, 40, a recreation and parks employee who cuts the grass at Robert E. Lee Memorial Park off Falls Road, said problems with trespassers are few nowadays.

"We may have problems sometimes with people who come in [to the park] who are boyfriend and girlfriend, but, to be honest with you, there are no real problems," Moore said.

Harris said "lovers' lane" activities tended to be concentrated in Druid Hill Park, which has remote locations for couples to hide. She said officials had received complaints of teen-agers drinking and using drugs in Robert E. Lee Memorial Park after hours.

Robert E. Press, 71, who lives just outside the park, said he has walked the park grounds for years and never had any trouble. "It's usually very quiet and peaceful. That's why I keep coming here," Press said.

Harris said the Park Patrol was an offshoot of the Pool Patrol, in which recreation and park officials would patrol city pools after they closed to catch trespassers. They realized a number of people, including criminals, were using parks after they closed at dusk.

"The parks are not well-lit. They're intended for use in the daylight. There have been bodies found in various parks, and people in remote areas engage in all forms of illicit conduct. We want the parks to be family-oriented to ensure people's safety," she said.

Four recreation and parks employees, accompanied by at least as many Baltimore police officers, will patrol parks once a week during winter.

Harris said police officers write citations. Recreation and parks employees show them where people hide.

"Word has gotten out. People see us coming, and they know why we're there," Harris said.

"We've been able to clean things up a great deal."

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