Residents frustrated over crime

New police leaders hear angry comments at a council forum

`The city is dying'

Public meetings are prelude to Daniel confirmation hearings

January 19, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore residents fed up with crime, angry with police and afraid of drug dealers took their frustrations to the city's new police leadership team last night and sounded a desperate cry for help.

Some called the police an occupying force that needed to be checked.

Others said officers do nothing as drug dealers openly ply their trade on street corners.

All agreed that change is necessary for safer communities.

"How did the city get this way?" said Charles Dugger, a city schoolteacher and recent mayoral candidate. "People have big talk and big salaries and the city is dying. Where is the creative leadership? Restore this city, but believe in the people."

Police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel and his two new deputies listened from a stage in the auditorium at Polytechnic Institute in North Baltimore during the first of two community meetings sponsored by the City Council's Public Safety Committee.

The forums -- the second is set for 7 o'clock to 9 o'clock tonight at Dunbar High School in East Baltimore -- are designed as a prelude to the council's confirmation hearing on the Daniel appointment set for late this month or in early February.

Crime has been a top issue and helped propel Mayor Martin O'Malley into City Hall with his promise for more assertive policing to end a decade of 300-plus killings a year that has made Baltimore one of the deadliest cities in the nation.

Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr., chairman of the public safety committee, moderated the forum but did not ask Daniel or his police commanders to respond to public comments. The top officers listened attentively and took notes.

"Your ideas are about making Baltimore a better city, a safer city for all of us," Handy told the more than 100 people who attended the 2 1/2-hour meeting.

City Council members distributed a public safety survey to gauge perception of crime and police. Questions asked of respondents included rating the safety of their neighborhoods compared with the Inner Harbor, whether they support a gun ban and if closing open-air drug markets will reduce crime.

The survey also asked citizens to grade officers on whether they are honest, racist, competent, lazy, sincere or corrupt.

After the forum, Daniel told residents that their concerns had not fallen on deaf ears. He told them that the new assertive-style policing, dubbed zero tolerance, will not be a term used to describe how officers do their jobs.

"You are not going to hear me talk about zero tolerance," Daniel said. "But you will see zero-tolerance results."

It was clear during the sometimes lengthy speeches from citizens that they want change to end violence. One by one, homeowners, public housing residents, teachers, parents and preachers took a microphone and impassionedly said what was wrong with their city and its leaders.

Francis Kane of Southeast Baltimore said he and his neighbors constantly dial 911, but complained "response time is none. Something needs to be done. We're totally sick of it. Clean it up."

Armand Gerard said he worked on O'Malley's campaign because he liked the mayor's idea of "zero-tolerance" policing, designed to target nuisance crimes to deter more serious ones.

"I'm just wondering what the state of all this is," Gerard told the police officials and City Council members sitting on the stage. "What parts are going to be implemented and what parts are going to be ignored?"

Some speakers were well known to city officials and the media.

Civic activist A. Robert Kaufman was the first speaker, lecturing the panel on the evils of crime and imploring them to legalize drugs as the only way to end violence. Others who have protested routinely outside police headquarters called for accountability in what happens to drugs and guns seized by officers.

Many who spoke were homeowners who offered ideas on how to end the shootings and slayings. One wanted police dogs stationed on corners to sniff out hidden drug stashes. Another wanted bicycles to be registered to scare off youngsters who use them to carry drugs. And another wanted drivers licenses suspended for anyone caught selling cocaine or heroin.

Some people told Daniel that citizens are afraid of his officers.

Maxine McRae of Northeast Baltimore said a lieutenant told her 14-year-old son, "We don't teach sensitivity. We teach marksmanship."

McRae told the police officials, "I'm not afraid of the gangsters. I'm afraid of you."

But Lamont McAdams of Northwest Baltimore said he wants more assertive police patrols.

"With the situation as desperate as it is, we need to get behind the police," McAdams said. "I'm all for zero tolerance. I want to see officers get out of their cars and pull people up."

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