Prosecutor assigned to nuisance crimes

With $200,000 grant, state's attorney's office to target Pigtown area

September 06, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Helen Keith has looked out her front window and seen it all -- prostitutes, illegal drug sales and men urinating in her yard.

Keith is hopeful that her view, as well as overall conditions in the south-side neighborhood of Washington Village/Pigtown, will change for the better because of a $200,000 grant announced yesterday by State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

The money from the U.S. Justice Department is being used to assign a prosecutor, Jennifer Etheridge, to concentrate solely on "quality of life" crimes -- often called nuisance crimes -- that include public urination, drunken and disorderly conduct, and carrying open containers of alcohol, in the neighborhood.

"This ... is a great boost to proactive efforts already under way in this neighborhood," Jessamy said. "The prosecutor will work closely with Southern District police officers to identify cases ... and she will track them and notify witnesses of court dates."

Keith, who lives in Pigtown with her three children, credits police with cracking down on nuisance-crime offenders but welcomes the extra help the grant will provide.

"This is just another effort to curtail it ... to get rid of it," Keith said. "I'm excited about the grant. I think ... every crime area needs a grant like this."

Etheridge, a six-year veteran in the state's attorney's office, drafted the grant proposal to the Justice Department. She said officials from the state's attorney's office held nine "community prosecution forums" last year, in which they talked to people in the city's nine districts to hear their concerns.

"What we have heard when we do speak with many citizens is that it's the everyday crimes that are driving people out of the city," Etheridge said. "Public urination, drunk and disorderly conduct, prostitution. People work hard to make a home in Baltimore City, and sometimes they feel, `Why should I stay here if there's no enforcement?'"

For most public urination cases, Etheridge said, she'll offer offenders a chance to complete five hours of community service in Pigtown. If the community service is completed, the charges will be dropped.

"We'll want them to give back to the neighborhood that they injured by their act," she said.

Anthony Savage, chairman of the Washington Village/Pigtown Neighborhood Planning Council, said he is confident that the prosecution will make a substantial difference in the neighborhood. Savage is also chairman of the neighborhood's public safety committee.

"This is a very nice neighborhood, a very diverse neighborhood," Savage said. "People need to be accountable for their actions."

Savage talked of plans for a development of townhouses near Pigtown which are expected to be priced in the mid-$100,000s.

"If you want people to move into the neighborhood," he said, "they want a nice, clean, safe neighborhood."

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