More drug corners targeted

City police identify 8 for tough enforcement

February 11, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Like an army plotting a battle many view as unwinnable, Baltimore police have identified eight more drug-infested areas they plan to reclaim by summer -- furthering Mayor Martin O'Malley's pledge to clear 10 open-air drug markets within his first six months in office.

Police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel released the department's 150-page strategy this week, a plan to defend and rebuild drug hot spots so dealers, touts and addicts do not return, in a city where one in eight adults is drug-addicted.

"It is going to work because we are not moving," Daniel said yesterday. "We will stay put to make sure we gain control."

One community in each of the city's nine police districts was selected for the Open Drug Market Eradication Program. The Southwestern District has two areas. District commanders, who will be held accountable for the intiative's success, identified neighborhoods with historical drug problems, high crime rates and community will to fix the problem.

Some residents, in communities where drug dealers control streets and use fear and intimidation to grip blocks so tightly that few people speak out, praised the effort. But they are weary of politicians' promises and failed police drug sweeps and are left only with hope -- not expectations.

This time, while police expect some roadblocks, they pledge it will be different.

The manual, crafted by Col. Bert Shirey, outlines an aggressive enforcement strategy that mirrors a zero-tolerance approach to crime and a community-based follow-up, similar to initiatives launched and shepherded by Daniel's new deputy, Edward T. Norris, in such cities as New York.

Criminals will be given "a no business-as-usual warning" and should expect an intensive police assault. Murder suspects, major drug dealers, neighborhood drunks, addicts and prostitutes will be arrested or cited in sweeps that will last days at a time.

Police expect the arrests to be a statement, not a solution, because of a clogged court system and because, if there is a demand for drugs, another supplier will reap the financial benefits within hours.

"I could sit on the corner and have 100 people arrested, only to have 100 more show up," Daniel said.

To combat recurring drug activity, the plan calls for daily neighborhood inspections by police commanders, beefed-up patrols, biweekly community meetings, the use of drug-sniffing dogs, trash and graffiti removal, possible street closings and strict law enforcement.

Some of the 10 operations were started about two weeks ago, when police announced the first two target areas.

"So far, it's very successful," said Central District Maj. Steve McMahon, who said his officers have made more than 125 arrests since Jan. 31. "The message is already out."

In the Northern District, residents have noticed the increased police presence in drug-troubled Pen Lucy. "Lately, the police have been up here patrolling, doing their job," said Joanna Vines, 35, who lives on the 600 block of Cator Road. "Kids can play. It was real bad, and now it's almost gone."

Critics, noting there are about 60,000 drug addicts in the city and more than 300 homicides a year, said the problems are merely being pushed into other areas, which could trigger turf battles.

The plan "will just move the drug market from one place into another drug area, which will increase the killings," said A. Robert Kaufman, a community activist and former mayoral candidate.

While it briefly outlines tactics to prevent the drug problem from migrating -- including the use of computer-generated crime tracking data and training to identify drug movement -- the plan lacks a thorough explanation of how follow-up measures will lead to long-term solutions.

Daniel said police and other city agencies need to "be relentless" and "follow up" and the problems won't return. The operation will continue as long as needed, he said.

"The 10 corners are just a start," O'Malley said. "Open air drug dealing isn't acceptable on any street corner or any block."

Police have identified key city corners within the 10 "drug eradication" zones, which range from three blocks to more than 30. In those zones, the number of drug calls police responded to last year averaged 981.

The designated areas are:

Northwest District, a three-block area in Pimlico between Garrison, Oakley, Queensberry and Palmer avenues.

Central District, a seven-block area in Druid Heights between Etting, Gold and Presstman streets and Fremont Avenue.

Western District, a 19-block area near Union Square between Lexington, Baltimore, Gilmor and Monroe streets.

Northern District, a 23-block area just east of Guilford between East 43rd and 39th streets and St. Georges and Greenmount avenues.

Northeast District, a 40-block area near Lake Montebello and Clifton Park, between East 31st and 25th streets and Kirk Avenue and Harford Road.

Southeastern District, a 13-block area in Highlandtown bounded by East Fairmount and North Decker avenues and East Lombard Street and North and South Conkling Street.

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