City housing police armed with semiautomatic weapons swept through 60 vacant apartments at two public housing complexes yesterday, an action aimed at ridding the troubled high-rises of drug dealing squatters.
Forty Housing Authority officers went to each vacant apartment at the 700-unit Lexington Terrace and nearby 200-unit Poe Homes complexes, with maintenance crews right behind them to board up windows and replace locks.
No arrests were made at Lexington Terrace, although a special housing police unit did arrest two people on heroin charges at the nearby George B. Murphy Homes high-rise project.
The action is the latest attempt by housing officials to deal with surging crime problems in public complexes.
In the last three weeks, snipers have fired from buildings, a 9-year-old girl was murdered and her body left in a trash bin and a man was shot to death in a stairwell.
At Lexington Terrace, drug dealers had such a choke-hold on one of the high-rise buildings that pushers recently stood guard over the entrances armed with shotguns and handguns, said Bill Toohey, a Housing Authority spokesman.
"There were three times when drug dealers were standing watch at the door and would not let the people in unless they were there to buy drugs," Mr. Toohey said. "That tells you how bad it is."
The operation will continue today. Housing Authority officials say the vacant units have become "stash houses" for drug dealers who move in for deals and refuge during police raids on occupied apartments.
"We're doing a clean sweep," said William H. Matthews, chief of the authority's police department. "This is the only way we know how we can get control. Our intent is to turn this community pTC back to its rightful owners and its residents."
Dealers also use windows at the vacant units to shoot at residents and police, authorities say.
As officers moved through the buildings, they used an authority's key to each vacant unit. When the keys didn't work, they would bring in locksmiths to open the doors. The sweep is the second of its kind by the Housing Authority this year. In May, officers swept through 109 vacant units at the Lafayette Courts along Fayette Street, arresting 10 people.
In the midst of yesterday's operation, a special tactical unit of the housing police received information about a drug deal going on at nearby Murphy Homes.
On the fourth floor, they arrested two men, whom they identified as John Tarleton of Murphy Homes and Garin Davis of 500 block Dolphin St., on heroin charges. They also charged Mr. Davis with trespassing and resisting arrest.
Since April, police report, two people have been killed and at least two others wounded during shooting incidents at Lexington Terrace, which consists of five high-rise buildings.
Thursday morning, city and housing authority officers came under sniper fire during a drug arrest at the Flag House Courts on Lombard Street. But authority officials said yesterday's operation was not prompted by the sniper incident. They said the authority has been planning the sweep since shortly after the Lafayette Courts operation.
Once the sweeps are finished today, the authority will initiate a "maintenance plan" that includes establishing a station in the apartment building at 770 W. Fayette St. for residents to report suspicious activities, Chief Matthews said.
Ida Shern, who has lived in the 221 N. Fremont Ave. building for two years, said the steps should help alleviate the residents' fears of crime at the complex.
"Everything [about the complex] is all so derogatory," she said. "That's what the drug dealers feed on."