Loss of monitors worries public housing tenants

11 entrances to high-rises left unguarded for 8 hours a day

October 06, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Residents of Baltimore's public housing high-rises say they feel less secure because of a drop in the number of building monitors, who are supposed to watch who comes and goes at the facilities.

Since last week, about half of the high-rises have not had monitors for eight hours a day. There are 18 developments, with 21 entrances normally monitored. Eleven of them have been unguarded from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"Anyone and everyone can come through that door," said Esther Hall, president of the tenant council at Wyman House, a 16-story, 192-unit building in Wyman Park. "There's no one there to see it."

David Tillman, a housing spokesman, said yesterday that the authority hopes to have 10 new monitors - civilian employees of the housing authority police force - on staff by Tuesday. In the meantime, he said, overtime will be approved to cover the staffing shortfall.

"We're working as quickly as we can to get those vacancies filled," he said.

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City has not cut the number of monitors, but there are so many staff vacancies that there aren't enough people to cover the day shift at some buildings, said Maj. Cornelius Hairston of the housing authority police.

The authority has funding for 99 monitors, but 13 of those slots are unfilled, he said.

It has been difficult to attract and retain the monitors since the summer, when the city began talking about disbanding its 65-officer housing authority police force, Hairston said.

The monitors' jobs will not be eliminated when the rest of the force disbands at the end of this month, but uncertainty about their future has made it hard to fill the positions, he said.

Monitors who have remained on the force have been moved to evening and overnight shifts, when security needs are greater, city officials said. But residents say monitors are needed during the day, too.

Each building has a booth in the lobby for monitors, who buzz visitors through the front door and require that they leave photo identification with them. The booths also have a board that lights up when residents press a button in their apartments to call for help in a health or other emergency.

Doors to the buildings are locked when no one is posted in the booth. So legitimate visitors - such as relatives and health aides - can have difficulty getting inside, tenants say. At the same time, they say, there is no one to stop people with no business in the building from following residents inside when they open the doors with their keys.

"They can walk right in behind you, walk into your apartment, push you in there and kill you," said Cammile Kiah, 64, a retired nurse who is blind and partially deaf and lives at Wyman House. "I think it's very dangerous for the senior citizens."

Hairston said building managers have been posted in the booths during the day to moni- tor visitors and the lighted board.

"Management is monitoring that," he said.

But the booth at Wyman House was empty yesterday. Hall and others said that has been the case since last week.

"Yesterday, when I went over there, there was nobody in there," said Jacqueline Harris, who went to the building to visit her mother, Kiah, and only got inside when a tenant opened the door. "I walked in right behind them. They're not sitting there. No one is sitting there. In fact, the manager's office door is closed. There's nobody monitoring."

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