Westport project's drug trade targeted

Police substation closed by firebombs to reopen Friday

July 12, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The drug war is so ferocious in Westport Homes/Mount Winans that police have twice tried to put a rowhouse-turned-police-substation in the public-housing complex.

And twice - in 1995 and 1998 - dealers firebombed the station days before it was set to open.

This week, police are trying for a third time in the same rowhouse on Norfolk Street.

They hope to curtail a cocaine and heroin trade in the Westport Homes/Mount Winans housing project that police estimate at about $100,000 a month.

"You can't give up," said Housing Police Lt. David Adams, who will be stationed at the satellite office. "You've gotta battle. They battle, you battle."

The substation, complete with $60,000 in renovations, is set to open Friday.

Police from the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and the city Police Department will staff the substation, which is the centerpiece of an area cleanup effort this week.

After the 1995 firebomb, then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke held a news conference in front of the damaged building to announce that it would be refurbished in four to seven days.

Five years later, Schmoke's words may become reality.

Police swept through the area this week, locking up 23 people in the neighborhood for drug offenses. With some of the dealers off the street, the substation has a greater chance of surviving, police said.

It has new walls, windows and other improvements, and is part of a grand-scale cleanup of the Westport/Mount Winans area that will cost at least $150,000, said Zack Germroth, spokesman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

As part of the cleanup, workers installed 20 bulletproof street lights taken from the site of the Hollander Ridge public-housing high-rise, which was torn down Saturday.

A team of 230 city workers and volunteers is inspecting houses, landscaping, painting and putting up $10,000 worth of security cameras. Workers are also blocking off certain streets that are "perfect little havens for drug trade," Germroth said.

There are 572 units in the public-housing development, 78 of which are vacant. The homes were built on 32.9 acres between 1942 and 1970 and have been spiraling downward since their completion.

"It's not an open-air market, but we do have a significant amount of traffic," Adams said of the area. "A lot of it is people from the county. County residents pay double. If it's a $20 rock, they pay $40."

Firebombs and other scare tactics might not have frightened police, but they have terrified residents.

"They broke in my house four times and stole over $10,000 worth of stuff. Twice in the same week," said Frances Madison, 68.

Her daughter, Marilyn Spencer, wants her to move out of the area, but she refuses, even after her plumbing got clogged Sunday and her house became soaked with raw sewage.

"You got sewage and rats running all over the place," Madison said. "I don't know how the Health Department allows us to live in these places."

She plans on staying.

"I like my independence," Madison said. "Even though it's a horrible place, it's mine."

Lula Wilson, president of Westport/Mount Winans Tenant Homes Council, said she stays because it's what she knows.

"I'm here 32 years, and it's dangerous, but I'm surrounded by people I know," she said. "It would be more dangerous if I moved somewhere I didn't know anybody. My feeling is drugs are everywhere. If you move somewhere else, they're there, too."

Wilson raised 13 children and several of her 35 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren in Westport. She now cares for two of her grandchildren.

"I am afraid for my grandchildren, but I do a lot of praying when I walk out the door," she said. "The newer people have a reason to be afraid."

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