Charles Village meeting on crime grows heated

Few agree how to solve problem; many residents blame police

August 07, 2010|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore officers found themselves on the defensive Saturday during a Charles Village meeting at which the Police Department's commitment to eradicating crime in the community was questioned.

The meeting, prompted by the fatal stabbing of Stephen B. Pitcairn, a Johns Hopkins University researcher who was killed July 25 during a robbery in the 2600 block of St. Paul St., erupted into contention as residents disagreed over the effectiveness of crime-fighting efforts.

Residents accused Northern District police supervisors of failing to assign enough officers to Charles Village and neglecting to keep track of repeat offenders. There were also vociferous complaints about lenient judges, ineffective prosecutors and indifferent politicians.

"We're working harder than ever," replied Officer William O'Donnell, who has been assigned to Charles Village for two years and said he has made 70 arrests there. "Believe me, we're in your district. You don't always see us, but we're there. We've got a ton of officers on the street right now."

Maj. Ross Buzzuro, the Northern District commander, said the killing of Pitcairn "reinforces the fact that our job is never done."

He asked the audience for help. "Our success and our effectiveness is predicated on our community involvement," Buzzuro said.

Though many residents tended to blame lax law enforcement, others defended the officers.

"The police can't be everywhere," said Dana Moore. "There's not enough money to throw at this problem."

Moore urged her Charles Village neighbors to educate themselves on how best to protect themselves and their homes, and not hold police responsible for every crime.

"People's lives are at stake," said Terrence Broxton, who has lived in Charles Village for 19 years and described himself as a community activist. The only option, he said, is to "get together and do something."

As Broxton and others offered ideas, a moderator wrote them on large sheets of white paper, which she pinned to a wall in the meeting room of University Baptist Church on North Charles Street. Suggestions included freeing up state and federal grants for community safety initiatives; setting up a network of block captains; expanding bus and shuttle service between Pennsylvania Station, Charles Village and Hopkins' Homewood campus; coordinating police patrols by officers from the city, the University of Baltimore and Hopkins; and keeping businesses open later at night in Charles Village and in the Station North district, to boost the number of people out and about.

"It takes people on the street," said Robert Evans, who grew up in Annapolis and moved to Baltimore in the 1980s. "I want to see people from Penn Station to University Parkway."

If the police were the main target of residents' discontent, it was also clear that there were divisions as to how best to solve — or at least ease — the crime problem. Many complained that the Charles Village Community Benefits District, created in 1994 to provide supplementary services to residents in a 100-block area, had ended patrols by private security guards.

David T. Hill, executive director of the benefits district, said outside the meeting that the private security service was discontinued in June 2009, after 14 years, because it was ineffective. The three guards were unarmed, had no arrest powers and, until four years ago, did not work weekends. None patrolled past 11 p.m., he said.

"The decision was, if we can't do it properly, let's not do it at all," Hill said. "We were spending $150,000 a year on an inadequate security force that, as far as we could tell, wasn't getting much done."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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