WITHIN THE PAST few weeks, Baltimore police, liquor and health inspectors swept through dozens of city bars, liquor stores, clubs and restaurants in an effort to crack down on everything from drug dealing to unsanitary conditions. This is part of the new police commissioner's strategy for reducing violence and breaking up the annoying crowds that gather outside of liquor joints, intimidate other pedestrians and trash up the sidewalks.
The other day, I heard a police spokesman use the term "nexus of crime" (a distant cousin to "axis of evil"?) to describe some of these places, and though it sounds like hyperbole, people who live in certain city neighborhoods and resent the booze-in-a-brown-bag crowd probably aren't going to knock the choice of words.
In fact, I know a liquor store a few blocks from my house that could use a little of this Kevin Clark-style tidying up.
However, Cafe Hon, home of beehives and BLT, never would have occurred to me.
But Cafe Hon was apparently a target in a recent "Clark Raid," and this didn't exactly thrill the civic-spirited woman who owns the place, Denise Whiting.
What we have here is either an unwarranted police action or an uncouth police officer. Maybe both.
We can't say for sure because we couldn't get to the officer for comment. And that's because his actions on two nights in late May are "under review," according to a Police Department spokesman.
Meanwhile, Whiting, winner of numerous accolades and tons of publicity over the years since she established Cafe Hon on 36th Street in Hampden, has written to Mayor Martin O'Malley with a description of the officer's conduct in what apparently was one of these continuing "Clark Raids."
She says she was at Cafe Hon on Friday night, May 23, when two officers entered the restaurant and demanded to see Whiting's 8-year-old liquor license. One of them took the lead and did all the talking.
"The police officer never introduced himself to me and I felt very threatened by his presence," Whiting wrote O'Malley. "He never stated why he was there. ... I proceeded to take him to my wall of permits.
"He then questioned my fire permit. [He] stood in the middle of my busy restaurant with his black gloves on with the fingers cut out and pointed in an exaggerated fashion to every seat and counted them. ... He filled out a paper and said I needed to get a new fire permit and left after about a 45-minute display of outrageous behavior. I was never asked to sign anything, I was never issued anything in writing. And he never said when he would return."
But the officer did return -- six days later, about 8:50 p.m. Thursday, May 29 -- and this time to see if Whiting had obtained an updated restaurant capacity permit from the Fire Department. (She hadn't, but has since.)
"I run over to see what the officer needs and try to be accommodating and ... he demands my employee names, addresses and Social Security numbers `NOW,'" she wrote to O'Malley. "Well, I have all that upstairs, and it would take some time to unlock the office, locate the files, turn on the photocopier, etc. He has now gone out to his car to write me up for non-compliance or failure to cooperate.
"So I then take my employee phone list off the wall. I am very upset by [the officer's] rudeness and walk it out to his car to hand it to him.
"As I approach the driver-side window I say, `Here is the employee list.' As I hand him the list he proceeds to roll up his window, which results in me dropping the list. ... Three more police cars pull up."
Whiting says her now-favorite local gendarme accused her of assault. However, she was not charged.
"I have always had an excellent relationship with the Police Department and in all the times I have talked to the police never have I encountered anyone with the demeanor of this officer," Whiting wrote O'Malley.
"He was very intimidating," Whiting told me yesterday. "He made me look like a criminal."
Maybe this is just about a rude police officer. But maybe he behaved badly because he resented his assignment. Perhaps he thought it was ridiculous to be busting Cafe Hon for the proper permits on a busy Friday night, or any night. I mean, unless I missed something, I don't think we're talking nexus of crime here.