Carroll Park 'night out'

Mayor, police and fire chiefs join community rallying against crime

August 06, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,Sun reporter

The police commissioner clenched his fists and boogied.

The fire chief smiled broadly and stepped to the music.

With about 60 people looking on, the city's top public safety officials joined in a quick line dance in Carroll Park, in a bid to connect with a community they believe is coming together to fight crime.

It was their third stop on a tour of the city for the National Night Out, an annual crime-prevention effort.

Mayor Sheila Dixon took the stage about 7:30 p.m. and proclaimed that she was having "a great time."

"This is about participation," she said, as the crowd cheered.

She delivered a plug for the Pigtown Festival next month and promised that her fire and police department heads would take the dance floor last night.

The new fire chief, Jim Clack, reminded the crowd that the Fire Department would give away free smoke detectors and got a round of applause when he announced that he has been a city resident for four months.

Sandi Myrick-Nelson, a high school instructor, watched the proceedings, snapping photos. "I've seen some of my students here tonight," she said.

Others mentioned the free food. There were about 10 booths set up - mostly by city agencies and health groups - handing out pamphlets to inform people about their services.

Not everyone was there by choice. Raymond Smith had been arrested about six weeks ago - on a charge of carrying an open container of alcohol, he said - and was completing his community-service sentence by cooking and distributing free hamburgers and hot dogs.

He said it wasn't a bad assignment and smiled at kids asking for condiments.

The Police Department's SWAT team showed off its "bear cat" - a nearly 20,000-pound bulletproof vehicle used to ram though walls. Parked next to it was the beat-up "raid van," which is usually stocked with tactical equipment such as crowd-control shields.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who used to command the officers who patrol Carroll Park when he was major of the Southern District, was surrounded by community members. A veteran of previous "Mayor's Night Out" events, he said this one felt better.

"This year is different because we're moving people to engage in the community all over the city," he said. "I think you can get people to attend [community watch walks] once or twice, but if they don't see a difference, they are not going to come back."

Citywide, homicides have fallen by 35 percent, according to police data. Nonfatal shootings are down by 22 percent.

But Carroll Park has had its share of notoriety. It was the site of a large Bloods gang meeting in July 2007. Members of the Tree Top Piru set, according to court papers, also picked the park for a "911" - gang code for a meeting where business was conducted. Eight people at that meeting were indicted on federal racketeering charges connected to drug dealing.

"This is a great park," Dixon said, noting that she had recently ridden though it on one of her early-morning bike tours.

The mayor was also expected to stop last night in Barclay - a neighborhood just south of Charles Village. Last year, 10 people were shot to death in that neighborhood amid a conflict between the Bloods and the Black Guerrilla Family. Not all of those homicides were gang-related.

So far this year, there has been one homicide there.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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