Safe-zone project fights crime, offers resources

Initiative: City police set up a round-the-clock command post in a five-square-block area of Mondawmin.

July 06, 2005|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

A month ago, Roosevelt Grandy had trouble getting to his home as police officers blocked off his West Baltimore neighborhood seeking clues to the afternoon killing of a 21-year-old man gunned down in the street.

Yesterday afternoon, Grandy, 77, watched with appreciation from his steps as police returned to the community - one of Baltimore's most violent this year - to set up a different kind of operation, called the Community Safe Zone Project.

Using metal barricades and traffic cones, police shut down a five-square-block area in Mondawmin to traffic and flooded the neighborhood with officers.

Officers walked the beat while housing inspectors cited dilapidated buildings. Using green booths typically found at street festivals, Health Department workers passed out information on drug addiction and disease while workers from city agencies and nonprofit organizations talked with adults and children about mentoring, social services and job training.

"I'm thankful there is such a thing going on," said Grandy, who has lived in the neighborhood with his wife for 36 years. "It isn't often you get the occasion to get services direct to the people. ... This is nice."

Grandy's house is near Walbrook Avenue and Payson Street, where police have set up a round-the-clock command post for the next month in an effort to stem the tide of crime that has swept the neighborhood since early this year.

Police statistics show that the area within the zone has been the site of seven shootings this year, three of them fatal. In the most recent killing last month Mustafa Aleem, 21, of the 4600 block of Parkton St. was fatally shot as he crossed the street. Police have no suspects in the killing.

Drug market

Police said the 1900 block of Pulaski St. has served as a well-known drug market, where people buy drugs as they drive by.

Police officials said variations on the safe-zone concept have been attempted before in Baltimore, but the latest effort in Mondawmin involves a higher level of coordination between city agencies and community organizations.

Lt. Col. John Skinner, commander of the Western District and coordinator of the project, which he designed, said officers targeted the area with enforcement and "a lot of arrests" in previous weeks. With the safe-zone project, the plan is to offer residents more resources to help turn the neighborhood around, he said.

Dealing with concerns

Throughout the month, city agencies and nonprofit organizations will staff the booths to help deal with residents' questions and concerns.

"The idea is to leave it better than when we first came," Skinner said. "Everyone knows you can't arrest your way out of the problem."

Skinner said the area around the safe zone - bounded by Clifton and West North avenues and Bentalou and Monroe streets - has been one of the most troubled in Baltimore this year. It is also an area in dire need of attention and services, Skinner and others said.

`Please no dumping'

On block after block, weeds poke out of sidewalk cracks and fissures, and streets and alleys are strewn with trash and debris. In large letters on one building on Walbrook Avenue, the phrase "Please no dumping" is spray-painted in large letters. Vacant rowhouses, whose windows and doors are either boarded with plywood or filled in with cement blocks, can be found on most blocks - but so can neatly tended homes, such as Grandy's.

Skinner said he hopes to replicate the safe-zone project in other neighborhoods. About a half-dozen officers are being used for the initiative, no overtime is being used, and officers are focused on tackling safety issues between 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. - a prime time for trouble, Skinner said.

`A good thing'

"Police presence is a good thing," said Ed Johnson, 49, who moved into the neighborhood in February with his girlfriend. "In the short term at least, we won't have any dealing here while the police is staked out. ... [Drug dealing] is destroying the whole community."

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