A steel turnstile being installed as a desperate effort to provide safety in Baltimore's public housing projects has been smashed by vandals, city housing officials said.
The turnstile, one of two being installed at the Lafayette Courts project in East Baltimore, was unscrewed from its foundation and bashed into pieces on the ground about 2 a.m. yesterday.
Construction had begun two weeks ago on the 7-foot turnstiles, metallic barriers that housing officials hope will keep out unwanted visitors and curb rampant drug-dealing and violent crime in the projects.
"I heard someone smashing on it around 2 a.m., then I heard it fall to the ground," said a woman who lives on the second floor of the high-rise at 200 N. Aisquith St. "There was this loud crash, then cheers."
Turnstiles are to be installed in all of Baltimore's public housing high-rise projects, where criminal behavior became so brazen last year that drug dealers used high-caliber bullets to shoot holes in bulletproof glass at a few guard stations.
"I don't think anything can surprise me anymore," housing authority spokesman Bill Toohey said after hearing about the vandalism.
The first two turnstiles, virtual symbols of housing officials' last-ditch efforts to find some way to slow down crime, were to be in the Lafayette buildings at 131 and 200 N. Aisquith St.
Some residents walked by the vandalized pieces of the turnstile last night, and a few wondered what could be done to improve security.
"These turnstiles are good things to have; I don't understand this," said 22-year-old Stansberry Bea, who has lived in the building for 12 years.
"People complain about their quality of life, then when you try to do something about it, they wreck it."
The turnstiles hadn't been without their share of controversy from residents who saw them as putting up prison-like barriers in their homes. Last night, some laughed as they walked by the wreckage.
"I can't believe it's been up this long," said one man. "It's a waste of money."
Door alarms, time-lapse cameras and security personnel hired to guard the 17 high-rises have not slowed down crime.
"It's too bad," said Housing Authority Capt. Spencer L. Giles, who inspected the damage last night. "They had just really started trying to build it."
Problems that have plagued the buildings in the past have included drug dealers who stood guard at entrances with shotguns to ward off non-drug dealers and security guards who have been bought off by pushers.
More than 350 arrests for trespassing have been made at the high-rises since January, housing police said.