Man gunned down in city `safe zone'

Killing occurred in area of stepped-up policing

July 09, 2005|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

When police and other city agencies flooded a West Baltimore neighborhood earlier this week as part of "Operation Safe Zone," weary residents were relieved to see their presence in an area infested with drugs and shootings.

Yesterday afternoon at 4:15, however, during a lull in police activity in Mondawmin, a man was gunned down near North Pulaski Street and Walbrook Avenue, one block away from the nucleus of the safe zone.

Police recovered at least 17 shell casings at the scene, marked by a blood-soaked sidewalk next to the Straightway United Church of God. Residents said they heard a flurry of loud, repetitive gunshots, shattering the calm of a warm and bright afternoon.

"I know when [police] were here, it was very quiet," said Lorraine Spencer, 59, a Mondawmin resident since 1982. "It quiets down when they do that. Some think it's a real joke, but it's not a joke. We shouldn't have to tolerate it."

The victim, whom police did not identify pending notification of relatives, died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Homicide detectives had no suspects yesterday.

The slaying illustrates the challenges police face in neighborhoods rife with drugs and guns, and from witnesses who don't come forward to supply crucial information, even for the most brazen daytime attacks. It was the city's 145th killing this year, compared with 148 for the same period last year.

The five-block safe zone - bounded by Clifton and West North avenues and Bentalou and Monroe streets - has been one of the most violent areas in the city this year. There have been eight shootings this year within the area. Four of them - including yesterday's - were fatal. The previous fatal shooting also occurred during the day, on June 7.

In Walbrook on Thursday evening, about 10 blocks from the zone, a gunman shot and killed 27-year-old Jamie Bull Parker of East Baltimore with an AK-47-style assault weapon.

As part of the monthlong operation in the safe zone, officers set up metal barricades to discourage nonresidential traffic, city agencies staffed booths to disseminate information on health and employment, and housing inspectors cited buildings for code violations. City agencies and nonprofit groups were scheduled to staff the booths through the month.

Police billed the initiative as an example of cooperation among law enforcement, city agencies and community organizations, and an attempt to infuse a troubled neighborhood with additional resources. The Police Department's plan called for street closures around the safe zone area from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., using metal barricades manned by police officers on several streets.

But on Fridays and through weekends until the end of the month, police were scheduled to remove the barricades because of staffing restrictions. Instead, officers were scheduled to conduct foot patrols in the area from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.

The area's fourth killing of the year occurred during this window of opportunity.

Matt Jablow, a police spokesman, said that police are re-evaluating the safe zone schedule. "In light of this, we're considering changing the hours that the barricades in the safe zone will be up," he said.

A swath around the scene was blocked off with crime scene tape, stretching across the street to the opposite sidewalk.

Some residents said that police need to redouble their efforts within the safe zone.

"When there's no fear, things happen," said Lolita Wright, 36, a Walbrook Avenue resident. "There should be more police presence during the day."

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