City's police chief makes the collar

Enforcement: In the hands-on leadership style that endears him to officers, Baltimore's police commissioner makes a drug arrest on a snowy street.

January 27, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's determined police commissioner, out braving Tuesday's nor'easter, met an equally determined citizen: a Hampstead man who police said drove 30 miles through blinding snow to buy drugs on a treacherous city street.

Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel slapped the handcuffs on the 40-year-old man. But getting arrested by the city's top cop does have a plus side. Daniel fed his prisoner homemade chicken soup and a cheeseburger before taking him to be booked.

During the meal at the Northwestern District station house, Daniel counseled the man on the ills of drug addiction and warned him that while he is welcome to visit Baltimore, "We don't welcome people from outside the city who come to buy drugs."

The case highlights a problem for city police: suburban residents venturing into sometimes dangerous areas of Baltimore to buy drugs that are more plentiful, of better quality and cheaper than in outlying areas.

Top police officials have long complained that drug addicts from neighboring counties fuel the city's flourishing cocaine and heroin trade, contributing to urban blight and violence that claims hundreds of lives each year.

Even at the height of the storm, which shut down most of the state Tuesday, the city's near-one-a-day homicide toll rose when two people were shot and killed on the streets.Motives were unknown yesterday, but the killings occurred in known drug areas.

Drug users are so determined, police say, that they are willing to brave blizzard-like conditions and unplowed streets as they shop for the best deal. "They feel comfortable, and they know where to go," Daniel said yesterday.

About 8: 50 p.m. Tuesday, a good place appeared to be the 3600 block of Reisterstown Road. Daniel was driving an unmarked car with his new hire, Deputy Commissioner Richard P. Rieman Jr., in the passenger seat, when they got stuck behind a Chevy sedan blocking the Northwest Baltimore street.

"The car was blocking traffic because the passenger was making a drug deal with a person who approached the car," said Daniel, a 26-year police veteran who was named commissioner Jan. 3.

Suspected seller gets away

The suspected dealer escaped as Daniel turned on his lights and pulled the car to the curb. He called for backup, approached the car and identified himself to the driver as the police commissioner.

"I told the driver and the passenger that I had just observed what I believed to be a drug transaction," Daniel said.

"I asked [the passenger] to produce the drugs he had just bought. He went into his mouth and retrieved four pink packets of suspected crack cocaine. He laid them on the dash."

Daniel handcuffed the passenger, charging him with buying four small packets of cocaine for $40, and asked the driver to drive to the Northwestern District station, 16 blocks away on Reisterstown Road.

Officers John F. Rager and Michael Lavery helped their boss and transported the suspect.

At the station house, Daniel said he helped with paperwork and chatted with the driver, who was not charged. He urged the suspect to seek drug counseling and fed him soup and a burger, one of some that officers were grilling in a garage because area restaurants were closed for the storm.

"I really believe these are two gentlemen have learned their lesson and won't come back to the city again to buy drugs," Daniel said. "I asked them if they recognized me. Neither of them did. They were very humble. They were very polite. That goes a long way."

They'll have to testify

The arrest means that Daniel and Rieman, a former city police officer and private practice lawyer who returned to the force Monday as deputy commissioner of administration, will be summoned to testify at the defendant's District Court appearance. Daniel said he will let prosecutors know that the man cooperated.

John Steven Cooper, who told police he lives in the 3500 block of Basler Road in Carroll County, was charged with one count of drug possession. He was released on personal recognizance and was ordered to appear in court March 13.

He could not be reached for comment.

Daniel has made a point of being visible on city streets. He delights members of his 3,200-member force by backing them in what could turn out to be controversial situations and going out of his way with public praise.

He arrived at work Tuesday about 5: 30 a.m. to direct his officers as the city's worst snowstorm in four years rolled over the area. Other commanders also worked hard, some through the night, to ensure residents were protected during the state of emergency declared by the governor.

"He leads by example," Lt. James Henderson of the Northwestern District said of Daniel. "The guys on the street love it."

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