Crime at bay, pupils play

Patrols: An increased police presence near an elementary school helps return a once-dangerous playground to the pupils.

March 16, 2000|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Drug dealers, addicts and broken beer and wine bottles used to be a common sight on the playground at Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School.

Anything but the kids who go to school there.

The kids have reclaimed their playground, thanks to a collaboration involving police, schools officials, community activists and parents.

In recent days, Eutaw-Marshburn pupils have laughed and romped on the playground, something they couldn't do a few months agowhen drug dealers and prostitutes roamed the area.

Things had gotten so bad at the West Baltimore school that teacher's aides such as Patricia Webster wouldn't let children play outside.

"This corner used to be wild," Webster said this week, referring to Wilson Street and Madison Avenue. "I wouldn't bring the kids out here before because of the activities going on, drug sales and dealers calling out what they have for sale. I just started bringing my kids out about two weeks ago."

In December, at a meeting at the school to discuss the problem that was attended by about 70 people, police Maj. Steve McMahon of the Central District pledged to eradicate the problem.

The next day, Leonard Hamm, police chief for the city schools, assigned an officer to Eutaw-Marshburn. Baltimore police also assigned an officer to keep watch outside the school from noon to 8 p.m. weekdays, McMahon said.

The increased patrol has resulted in hundreds of arrests and the disappearance of drug dealers near the school, which is bordered by Wilson, McCulloh and McMechen streets, and Eutaw Place.

"As far as Eutaw-Marshburn, there's nothing going on," McMahon said this week. "We've taken care of the problem. They're all gone. The message is out."

During last year's mayoral campaign, Martin O'Malley pledged to clear 10 open-air drug markets within his first six months in office. In late January, McMahon met with Mayor O'Malley, Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., whose district includes the school, and others.

"At that time, we had 168 arrests for drugs, drinking, loitering and a few for prostitution," McMahon said. Assistant Principal Cynthia Thomas said she is grateful for police intervention and feels safer. "Officers come and stop in the area from time to time," Thomas said this week. "They come to see how things are going. Chief [Ronald L.] Daniel came to the school to talk to us."

Tony Davis, owner of P&T Grocery on Wilson Street, said he, too, appreciates the crackdown.

"They've cleaned it up a whole lot," said Davis, 32, who has owned the small convenience store for two years. "The kids are out there playing, running back and forth. There's an officer always around all the time. You don't see no drug activity around here where the kids are at. That's the main thing."

Davis said police used to admonish him because of loiterers in front of his store.

He has a "No Loitering" sign posted, and he doesn't sell alcoholic beverages.

"I would ask them to leave," Davis said, "but I couldn't grab them by the arm and make them leave."

McMahon credits the community with helping solve problems such as the one at Eutaw-Marshburn, saying police can't do it alone.

"It has to come from the community, the parents, the schools and other stable organizations and businesses," he said. "Just like the Avenue Market. It took the business people to back us up and help us enforce the rules about loitering and let us know what's going on."

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