Suburbanite trail of drugs leads to Cry Baby Corner

This Just In...

February 16, 2000|By Dan Rodricks

I don't do dope. Never bought drugs. Never borrowed my daddy's car -- like a certain woman named Constance did the other day -- to drive to some sad-looking neighborhood, with windblown trash and boarded-up houses, searching for some dope dealer on the corner. Never been there, never done that. Never got the taste. Never had the sickness.

I'm clean.

That means a lot of things. That means, for one, I won't be driving the family car down Poplar Grove Street, looking to buy heroin or cocaine, like the rest of those losers who come to Baltimore every day with cash. They come from as far as Gaithersburg, even Virginia and southern Pennsylvania -- not to visit Port Discovery, but to keep the drug business thriving here. God bless 'em. They bypass Washington and Prince George's County to patronize our drug dealers. They think the heroin and cocaine here are better and cheaper.

They don't seem to be afraid, either. Until recently, they didn't risk much -- assuming their minds were clear enough to weigh risks -- in coming to Baltimore to coke up. It's not like they'd get arrested.

Oh, maybe they'd be stupid enough to run into stickup guys. That's happened. Some suburban druggies have driven into Charm City looking for drugs, but instead of pulling their cars up to dealers, they've pulled up to stickup guys. The stickup guys have robbed them at gunpoint. They've stolen their cars, too. What's a suburban druggie do in a situation like that? Call the cops?

"Some have," said Maj. John L. Bergbower, commander of the Southwestern Police District.

We sat yesterday in the major's car at the corner of Poplar Grove Street and Westwood Avenue, near a closed-up corner store called Cry Baby Deli. Its motto: "Eat More, Cry Less." At Cry Baby Corner on Monday, Valentine's Day, Bergbower's officers took part in a citywide "reverse sting." Instead of doing the buying, they did the selling. They drove the regular dealers off the street, set up lookouts a block or two away, and established a market just before noon.

They arrested 53 people within a couple of hours, including a 29-year-old woman named Constance. Connie -- may I call you that? -- drove her daddy's Lincoln Navigator down from Hampden. She was charged with trying to buy heroin from a plainclothes officer. The police seized her daddy's Navigator. I bet Daddy hit the roof when he heard that.

A guy from Homeland -- no kidding, he's from Tunbridge Road, right near The Lakes! -- drove to Cry Baby Corner, looking for heroin.

A bunch of buyers came from out of town.

A 30-year-old guy drove his Nissan Maxima from Cockeysville. A 36-year-old guy drove his Mercury Mystique from Gaithersburg. Others came from Essex, Middle River, Woodlawn, Marriottsville, Crownsville, Jessup, Ellicott City, Linthicum and Columbia. They came in Chevys and Hondas, even Volvos.

Who says suburbanites are afraid to come into the city?

Across town, the sting netted 240 arrests.

"They said 41 percent of those arrested were from outside the city, and that surprised me," said Bergbower. "I thought it would be much higher. If we had set up at my favorite corner, Edmondson Avenue and Denison Street, it would have been 80 percent. That's further out [on the west side], and we get people who drive right in from Route 40 to buy drugs."

The southwestern part of town has an easy-on, easy-off reputation among suburban druggies. From the south and from the west, the open-air drug markets are easily accessible by highways and big boulevards.

Bergbower's district has set up corner stings before -- at Longwood and North, at Poplar Grove and Franklintown, near a senior citizens housing project. Officers have either bought drugs and arrested dealers or sold drugs and arrested buyers.

Is this a wise use of personnel for the police department?

If it's done consistently, it is. If prosecutors support the police who make the arrests, it is. If judges don't throw the cases out, it is. (We'll be watching when the Cry Baby cases go to court, your honors.) If the city or state has the political will to devote resources and millions of dollars to drug treatment, it is. Locking up buyers isn't the answer, but it's certainly part of one.

Bergbower says that of the 53 people arrested in Monday's sting, only one, a 36-year-old man from Woodlawn, had been arrested for a narcotics violation in the Southwestern District before. "He's been back a couple of times," Bergbower says. "But he's the only one who's come back here to buy. We rarely get a repeat."

So maybe the message gets out, after all.

The corner outside Cry Baby Deli was quiet yesterday morning, not a soul around.

"It'll be like this for a couple of days," Bergbower says. "But they'll come back."

Martin O'Malley is in City Hall, with many campaign promises to keep, so I have a feeling we'll see more stings throughout the city's nine police districts.

If there's consistent enforcement on the corners and solid follow-through -- serious and closely supervised drug treatment for the losers who create the demand -- then it's a good thing.

"The people who live here don't deserve to have this on their streets," Bergbower says, and he was speaking of people in those old, struggling neighborhoods of his district, far from the suburbs. "That's my concern -- the people who have lived here many years, senior citizens, and who can't afford to move anywhere else. They shouldn't have to live like this."

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