Police upset about directive after shooting

Patrol officers barred from covert drug operations

February 15, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Some Western District police officers are threatening not to make drug arrests after their commanders, angry about Sunday's triple shooting in Harlem Park, ordered them to stop undercover drug surveillance and spend more time locking up loiterers.

About a half-dozen officers said yesterday that Lt. John Mack "chewed out" his patrol units during morning roll call because they failed to prevent a gunman, armed with an AK-47, from shooting three men Sunday morning in the 1100 block of Harlem Ave. in Harlem Park.

Mack, during what was described as a 10-minute "tirade," told the officers the only way to prevent shootings is to arrest loiterers so they won't be hit by bullets, officers said.

"He explicitly said, `Loitering arrests over drug arrests,' " said one officer, who did not want to be identified. "That is ridiculous. To me, it is contrary to everything that the new commissioner [Ronald L. Daniel] said. His goal is a permanent resolution to crime, not just an hour or two resolution."

Mack's lecture yesterday touched off what officers described as a "minirevolt" within the precinct, and by mid-afternoon Daniel and other police commanders were searching for answers from Maj. Kenneth Blackwell, Western District commander.

Mack, a Western shift commander, said his comments were misconstrued. Mack and Blackwell said they announced a new district policy barring patrol officers from performing covert drug operations, in which officers hide in vacant homes and watch drug deals.

"It is a problem for patrol officers hiding in houses, trying to be drug officers when they are not," Mack said. "We need patrol officers on the street to handle day-to-day calls."

That policy, however, has angered some patrol officers, who say they will be relegated to "nickel-and-dime" drug arrests that -- because of a crowded court system that often releases petty criminals within hours -- are a waste of their time.

For years, patrol officers have been in the practice of sitting in vacant homes to observe drug deals and stashes. They say it is the only way to make large drug seizures because most dealers hide their supply in piles of garbage, drains or mailboxes. And, they say, in a department that rewards large drug seizures, it is one of the only ways for patrol officers to be recognized and promoted.

But Blackwell said, in the wake of Sunday's shooting, that he needs patrol officers to be more visible on the streets, not sitting in vacant homes.

Daniel, who has made the eradication of open-air drug dealing a priority, would not comment yesterday, but said he was concerned by the triple shooting.

Police arrested two men in that case yesterday. Twamon D. Penn, 21, of the 3700 block of Cottage Ave. and Jerome Jones, 20, of the 1100 block of Harlem Ave. were both charged with attempted first-degree murder and first-degree assault.

The three victims were still hospitalized at Maryland Shock Trauma Center yesterday. Louis Edwards, 44, of the 3400 block of Garrison Blvd. was listed in fair condition. Van Scott, 17, of the 300 block of N. Fremont Ave. and Antoine Johnston, 19, of the 1000 block of N. Payson St. were listed in serious but stable condition.

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