Old drugstore to house warrants unit

Original plans to put a PAL headquarters in Remington changed

July 18, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Plans have been changed to turn the former F&M drugstore in Remington into a Police Athletic League headquarters.

Instead, the new regional Warrant Apprehension Task Force will move there Aug. 1, followed later by the city police tactical unit.

Hazel Helmick, president of the Remington Community Association, said she welcomes any police presence in the North Baltimore community, but added that police did not notify the community directly about the change in plans. She also questioned whether police would be willing to share the parking lot with businesses.

"I look forward to discussing the exterior plans with the police," Helmick said, adding that the police move "can only enhance the 29th Street corridor, which is beginning to pull together."

Yesterday in Remington, Sgt. Frank Wagner and Capt. Gerard F. Busnuk were overseeing interior renovation of the 34,000-square-foot building in the 200 block of W. 29th St.

"You guys are working like Trojans in here," Deputy Commissioner Bert Shirey said, as officers rushed to complete work before the warrant apprehension task force moves in next month.

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris who brought the concept of the new unit from New York.

The 200-person uniformed tactical unit will move there later, but no timetable has been set. The unit will occupy about two-thirds of the space, which will include a gymnasium. "SWAT guys have to work out," Shirey said.

The interagency warrant task force is to include 75 to 80 detectives drawn from city police and four area police departments, the Maryland State Police, the FBI and the U.S. Marshal's Office. The plainclothes force will operate seven days a week, Shirey said, about 18 hours a day.

Maj. John L. Bergbower of the city police, commander of the task force, said there is a backlog of more than 54,000 warrants to be served in the city alone.

With booking facilities in place, Shirey said, "We'll be set to catch lots of bad guys."

Vacant for a few years before it was acquired by the city in 1998 for $1.2 million, the F&M site was an eyesore that neighborhood leaders campaigned to erase. When they suggested a new Northern District station there, then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke fashioned a compromise, which involved the city buying the building and including a police presence of some kind.

The original plan was for it to be a PAL headquarters, but after Martin O'Malley was elected mayor, his administration shifted police priorities and cut the size of the athletic program.

A detention room and two interview rooms are part of the design for the new offices. Suspects served with warrants will not be detained more than an hour or two, police said, but they will be pressed to tell what they know about more serious crimes. Homicide and shooting suspects will be taken directly downtown.

Addressing the neighborhood's wish for a police presence, Bergbower said, "It adds a degree of protection and adds to the local economy," gesturing to the 24-hour diner across the street. "The coming and going will have an effect on crime."

The F&M sign should come down soon, police said, and the parking lot will be cleaned, landscaped and fenced.

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