Getting To Grips With Gang Feuds

Crime Scenes

Bealefeld Wants Smarter Cops, Not Just More Of Them

August 19, 2009|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,

Recognizing Baltimore's feuding gangs should be easy:

Red for Bloods.

Blue for Crips.

But it's no longer as simple as looking for different-colored bandannas hanging from the back pockets of jeans.

Gang identifiers, in addition to traditional signs and tattoos, can be almost anything, manifested in wardrobes of significant variety.

A blue belt. Red rosary beads. Pockets turned inside out. The 'C' in a Colorado Rockies baseball cap. The red in a Cincinnati Reds hat.

There's no set uniform, according to a law enforcement expert, but there are recognized symbols that gang members incorporate into their everyday attire. They can dress differently and still fit in.

Some of these symbols helped police label Saturday's shooting inside the Light Street Pavilion at Harborplace as gang-related - a group of Bloods passed the Crips, a sucker-punch thrown, words exchanged, gunfire ensued. Two Bloods were wounded, their names found in a police gang database, the suspects long gone.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III complained Tuesday that the victims, "to put it mildly, are uncooperative in assisting us with who may have shot them."

But the city's top cop lamented that perhaps police could have used some of these known-to-law-enforcement symbols as an invitation to approach the two groups before they went into the pavilion, before they saw each other, before the shooting started, before violence once again dominated talk of the city's downtown tourist attraction.

"Cops ought to know a gangbanger when they see one," Bealefeld said.

"Some of these guys fly very overt signs or signals and we see that, whether it's flashing gang signs or something that someone says or a bandanna or colored beads, we should respond to that and we should engage."

Mayor Sheila Dixon has already said she wants cops to be more aggressive at the harbor.

"It doesn't mean we're going to arrest everyone we see wearing a Cincinnati Reds baseball cap," Bealefeld said, adding that on July 4, when more than 100,000 visitors packed the harbor for fireworks, he saw many people wearing the baseball caps of the Reds and Rockies, which he said have become a new status symbol for gang members across the country.

The Bloods and Crips, the top cop told reporters, "give us clues and we should act on those clues before trouble starts. That's what I want my cops to do. I want them to go up and say, 'Welcome to the harbor. Don't act like a jerk here. We want you to have a good time, but leave all this gang stuff at home. Or if you can't, go back home and we'll deal with you there.'

"You don't get to act like a fool here."

After a series of attacks in and around the Inner Harbor that started in April, Bealefeld flooded the waterfront with extra police, a contingent he has quietly drawn down in recent weeks. He said on Tuesday that he wants smarter, not necessarily more, officers working, ones who can separate the troublemakers from the visitors, ones who can tell the difference between a Colorado Rockies fan and a gang member who's using the hat as a symbol of terror.

"I don't just need men and women in uniform standing around twirling espantoons," Bealefeld said. "I need men and women who are vigilant, proactive and engaged. I'm not certain that dumping more manpower into this situation is the answer."

It was just a few months ago that Bealefeld, out inspecting his new harbor platoon, lectured a group of cops he saw walking and talking along the waterfront. He urged them to separate, to cover more ground, to talk to the tourists instead of to one another.

Now the commissioner is back confronting the same questions about the same problems. And once again, he's got victims lying in a hospital with bullets in their arms and legs who are unwilling to help his detectives. He turned to the television cameras and pleaded that "someone along the way, maybe through good moral conscience to make Baltimore safer" will pick up the phone and "call us."

More likely, he admitted, "maybe they'll get pinched and they'll say, 'I know the guy who fired the shot down at the harbor.' "

Police are asking any visitors who took pictures before, during or after the shooting to contact them as part of the investigation.

But even the mayor, in blunt comments over the weekend that once again took aim at the judiciary, suggested that even had Bealefeld's cops seen the gang insignia on Saturday night, detained the group, found the gun and prevented the shooting, "I guarantee if they caught that guy, he would be out the next day, with a slap on his hand."

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