Drug crackdown works, mayor says

Violence, drug deals decline in targeted areas, police report

June 08, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's pledge to reclaim 10 drug-infested areas within six months of taking office has been largely fulfilled, police said yesterday, with crime down and fewer people complaining about dealers and addicts.

Homicides and shootings also dropped on streets surrounding the designated drug markets, which police say shows they are not simply shuffling the drug trade from one block to another.

"The liberation of Baltimore's neighborhoods has begun," O'Malley said yesterday while standing at North Rose Street and Ashland Avenue, ground zero for a band of frustrated residents who have confronted dealers.

The mayor avoided making more specific promises and conceded that the successes represent a small fraction of the city's problems, which include as many as 55,000 addicts and too few treatment programs.

Even though no homicides occurred in any of the designated areas in the first six months, killings across the city are 26 above last year's pace, putting the city on track for its 11th consecutive year with 300 or more.

"We are not done by a long shot," O'Malley said. "We have established a beachhead.

"We're not claiming victory until from one end of this city to the other end of this city, on either side of Charles Street and from border to border, every place is a place where kids can play safely," he said.

Some targeted areas might be small in comparison to the city's vast drug markets, O'Malley said, but "we have to start somewhere."

"For years and years," he said, "we did nothing about open-air drug markets on any of our corners."

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris promised to expand the effort to every city neighborhood as his force works toward another O'Malley pledge: to cut the number of homicides to 175 by 2002.

The six-month pledge, he said, "was a symbol."

"The mayor made a declaration that we can do something about this, and I think that's exactly what's been proven," Norris said.

He vowed to "go exactly where the crime goes."

"When we shut down one market and they open up a block away, we go there."

Uneven success

Police acknowledged that their efforts weren't as successful as they would have liked in some neighborhoods, particularly on streets around West North Avenue and Longwood Street, historically one of the worst drug markets.

People who live and work in the 10 drug areas gave the police work mixed reviews. Most agreed crime has gone down, more officers are on patrol and civility has returned to corners where anarchy once reigned.

"One time you couldn't even get through Fayette and Monroe," said Audrey Tuck, 43, who grew up near the West Baltimore corner, the subject of a recent HBO series that thrust the city's struggle with drugs and addiction into the national spotlight.

"You'd have to keep saying, `Excuse me, excuse me,'" Tuck said. "There were people all out in the street. I think it's looking better. ... You hear a lot of people saying, `O'Malley ain't playing.'"

Charlie McNeill, 67, agreed. He lives near Harford and The Alameda, and recalled this week how he used to shoo drug dealers off his neighbor's porch.

"You don't see them hanging around here like you used to," he said. "It's definitely better."

It was at Harford Road and The Alameda where O'Malley announced his candidacy and his promise: "Six months after I take office, the open-air drug market of this corner and nine others will be things of our city's past."

Never-ending struggle

Many neighborhoods still struggle with what residents say is a never-ending battle against crime and a per capita homicide rate second only to Detroit's.

"They are still out here slinging drugs," said RonetteMoore, 34, who works at Loose Ends hair salon in the 3100 block of W. North Ave., an area where police concede their effort has not been among their most successful.

Moore said dealers from Longwood and North moved from residential streets to a strip of hair salons, eateries and pawnshops, where they call out the street names for cocaine or heroin.

"Yeah, it's changed; I got robbed and beat by a pistol two weeks ago," said Linda Monroe, 39, while shopping at the center. "That's how it's changed."

On two vacant, boarded rowhouses at the corner, new graffiti serves as a warning, or facetious commentary from the dealers. "Don't do drugs hear. Thank you," it reads.

Success is relative. Rudolph Russell, 75, who lives near Longwood and North, said the stepped-up police presence gives him three hours more sleep.

"Before you would wake up at 7 a.m. - not because you wanted to but because people were hollering about drugs," he said. "Now you can sleep until 10 a.m."

City Council members said they are confident that O'Malley is not playing a political game.

"Are [drugs] gone? Not totally," said 2nd District Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young. "They have moved somewhere else. You keep moving them and moving them and eventually they go away."

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