Residents want to see more police on beats

Dixon crime plan draws support for foot patrols

May 02, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes and Nicole Fuller | Gus G. Sentementes and Nicole Fuller,Sun reporters

Perhaps the most common refrain voiced yesterday by city residents in response to the crime plan announced by Mayor Sheila Dixon was this: They want to see more police, and they want to see them getting out of their cruisers and walking beats.

In many ways, Dixon's plan -- which calls for more community policing tactics, such as officer "adopt-a-block" programs -- is a response to that sentiment, found in many of Baltimore's most troubled neighborhoods.

"Instead of just riding through and talking on loudspeakers, get out of your car," said Alvin Tucker, 55, a Pimlico Race Course worker who was getting a haircut yesterday at the Park Heights Barber Shop in Northwest Baltimore. "They have to interact with the people in the neighborhood."

On Monday, Dixon detailed initiatives that include plans to target the most dangerous offenders, go after illegal weapons and broaden partnerships between police and the community.

The mayor wants to expand "safe zones" that are now set up in parts of Park Heights in Northwest Baltimore and in McElderry Park, where officers conduct extra patrols and sometimes block streets to disrupt the drug trade.

One component is having officers walk rather than ride in a patrol car, recalling the era of the neighborhood beat cop, who knew the troublemakers, the business owners and the parents -- whose job was to know everyone's business.

It is something that community leaders have wanted for years and a concept endorsed by many police commanders, but it might be difficult to implement.

The department has about 2,932 officers, nearly 300 officers short of full staffing, according to the city police union. Undertaking extensive foot patrols and other community police tactics would require more resources than the department currently has available, according to union officials.

"We will expand the foot patrol program whenever and wherever we can," said city police spokesman Matt Jablow. "Commissioner [Leonard] Hamm is well aware of the value of having police officers on the street. We're trying to implement programs that have the same net effect as the cop on the beat -- programs that allow officers and community members to interact more, to have officers learn more about their post without having to walk for their entire shift."

Many residents say they simply want more police. Baltimore has recorded 91 homicides this year, compared with 88 at the same time last year.

"It's like the drug people have taken over," said Ruby Tigney, who runs a day care center out of her rowhouse in East Baltimore's McElderry Park. "This is a high-crime area. I can't even bring my kids outside. I'm scared to bring them outside because of the drugs."

Luzerne Avenue in McElderry Park bustled yesterday with children walking to school, and men and women heading off to jobs and appointments. It is a neighborhood of Formstone and brick rowhouses, many of them boarded up. A police blue-light camera is posted on East Monument Street.

Bernadette Carter, 51, who is unemployed, applauded Dixon's plan as she stood in her doorway. "It's a good idea because it's been a high-crime area and all the police do is ride around," Carter said. "So they don't see what's really going on. So they need to be out walking around."

Carter's neighbor, Tammy McKoy, 43, was trying to get her 16-year-old daughter, Natasha Satchell, off to Patterson Senior High School. She said she tries to avoid venturing outside her home on Luzerne Avenue at night.

"My children don't even come outside," McKoy said. "I'm not sitting on the steps watching drugs being sold, and on top of that, I'm ducking. I don't have time for that. Life is too precious."

But she added, "I'm going to feel safe because God got my back."

Carter, who bought her home in 2001, said she would welcome more police.

"What's the purpose of the cameras, if they're not catching anyone?" she said. "It's a waste of money. They could have hired more police."

Jacqule Bogans, who was helping his 13-year-old nephew get ready for school in McElderry Park, said he welcomes any plan to curtail violence.

"Sheila Dixon is doing a good job, but this problem has been happening long before she's been around," he said. "The police do need to be on foot. Baltimore City is on the rise. It's being reconstructed, and it looks beautiful. I'm willing to bet if she puts more officers out on the street, there will be less crime."

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