Impede traffic, halt trafficking

Street barricades to protect Reservoir Hill from drug dealers get mixed reviews from residents

June 27, 2006|By RON HOLLANDER | RON HOLLANDER,SUN REPORTER

The gray metal police barricade resembling a discarded bike rack lay orphaned on the pavement on the east side of Ducatel Street at Linden Avenue in Reservoir Hill.

Across the street, a similar, 8-foot-long barricade stood erect, blocking the parking lane. "Baltimore Police Safe Zone" read the attached sign, emblazoned with the Police Department shield.

But it was the one on its side that griped Barney Pollard, 60, a bearded independent contractor who said he has lived in the gentrifying neighborhood for 42 years.

"It'll stay there until I go over and pick it up," he grumbled.

A Snickers bar in one hand, a Newport 100 hanging from his lip, he leaned over and stood the lightweight barricade upright in the street.

Drug dealing prompted the police to create the Safe Zone in March. It's part of a program that began a year ago in West Baltimore. But the dealers have done little to dampen the real estate boom in the community, where the average price of a home is $311,000, up from $120,000 four years ago.

While the barricades scattered throughout the neighborhood bounded by North Avenue, Druid Hill Park, Mount Royal Terrace and McCulloh Street were inconsistently maintained - some have been shoved to the curbs, others completely block a lane of traffic, some are on the ground, and at least one has been run over three times, according to police officers patrolling the area - residents felt they're doing the job of closing down what police officials called a "blatant, open-air drug market."

"I love them," said Katina Randle, sitting on the broad stone porch balustrade of a friend's 19th-century rowhouse at in the 2200 block of Linden Ave. "You can walk along with your pocketbook now. There are no bottles breaking at night. I can sleep better. Please, keep them."

Beside her, Frank Allison, a retired truck driver who has lived in the house for 35 years, nodded. Looking out from the shady porch, which cried out for a rocker, Allison could see stacks of plywood and two-by-twelves dotting the street. More than 100 houses are being renovated in the neighborhood, which had about 6,000 residents in the 2000 census, down 1,500 from 1990.

"Kids have the opportunity of playing on the street," Allison said over the incongruous din of portable generators supplying electricity for contractors at gutted houses. "They're not scared of danger. It's slowed a lot of drug traffic down."

Slowing down the drug trade - literally and figuratively - was the rationale behind establishing the zone, the first in the Central District since Maj. Dean Palmere became commander in January.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself," said Palmere, a 17-year veteran, "but we haven't had any major violence since the zone was established."

However, he acknowledged that one of the many construction workers in the neighborhood - they're far more visible than drug dealers - was wounded in a crossfire between rival gangs in April when the zone was taken down briefly to evaluate its effectiveness.

Palmere said that the barricades - and the three or four police officers on daily patrol in uniform and in plain clothes - deter drug dealing in at least two ways. By narrowing traffic lanes at key intersections, they give police an opportunity to scrutinize and to discourage people who come to the neighborhood to buy drugs.

He also said that the barricades and video cameras with blue flashing lights at Callow Avenue and Reservoir Street, and at Callow and Whitelock Street, advertise the police presence.

"The beauty of the safe zones with the visibility of the barricades is that it doesn't take a whole lot of police to keep the district secure," Palmere said. "We've eradicated 90 percent of the drug dealing."

The barricades generally have been supported by the residents, said Frank Patinella, community organizer for the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council. "Those who come out to our meetings, who speak up, like them," he said.

But Patinella said some residents feel the barricades stigmatize the community.

"Some ask, `Are we sending the right message to the outside world?'" said Patinella. "If we're on lock-down, does that undermine attracting new homebuyers?"

The Rev. Tom Composto of St. Francis Neighborhood Center at Linden Avenue and Whitelock Street grudgingly accepts the barricades and the Safe Zone concept as a necessary evil. "I don't like them," said Composto, a white-haired Catholic priest who calls himself a Buddhist, and who has been in Reservoir Hill since 1966. "Do they have them in Roland Park or in Guilford? But then, they don't need them, do they?"

Composto said if the barricades are temporary, he'll take them because "they're working now."

Palmere said the Safe Zone will end in Reservoir Hill next month as it's replaced by the C.O.P. - Citizens On Patrol - program, in which teams of residents patrol with a police officer.

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