Twice a week after sunset, Pooches on Patrol goes to work, reclaiming the streets of the Patterson Place neighborhood from the prostitutes.
The group of residents -- and their dogs -- sweeps through the 12-square block area, shooing away the prostitutes in the nonconfrontational manner of a large group of neighbors walking their dogs together.
While prostitution has been a problem in the Patterson Park area for years, Patterson Place residents say it's recently gotten worse.
They complain of being kept awake at night by the noise made by streetwalkers and their customers. Some recall transactions for sex being completed in front of their windows. Female residents talk of being propositioned by johns as they walk home from their cars. And residents say they're disgusted by partially clad men whom they have seen drive through the streets.
Last year, Southeastern District police officers made 325 arrests for prostitution, lewdness and perverted practice in the neighborhoods surrounding Patterson Park. So far this year, police have made 127 arrests.
Pooches on Patrol started in January. Carol Hartke, president of Patterson Place Inc., a neighborhood group, said the angry and frustrated residents wanted to do something to take back their streets from the prostitutes.
"It was a matter of who could own our streets," she said.
Since many residents had dogs, they decided to walk them together one night.
"It started in January and it's been going strong ever since," Ms. Hartke said.
The patrols seem to work -- prostitutes make themselves scarce when they see the dogs and their owners approaching.
Last Wednesday night, the patrol made quite a formidable force. Among the 16 dogs were Katie the Labrador retriever, Higgins the Doberman pinscher, Inker the beagle, Gamine the Border terrier, Olive Oyl the greyhound, Roxi the giant schnauzer and two chow chows, Bruno and Dog.
The patrol also was outfitted with a video camera and a portable phone to call police.
As the patrol headed east on Baltimore Street, a prostitute was spotted sitting on a resident's marble steps.
Like most of the prostitutes who work Patterson Park, the woman wasn't wearing the skimpy, attention-getting clothes usually associated with illicit sex. Instead, she appeared unassuming -- dressed in a T-shirt, baggy shorts and sandals.
But the neighbors recognized her anyway. She was a regular.
The dogs and their owners surrounded the woman. The owners and the prostitute just stared at each other. Nothing was said. The dogs didn't bark or growl.
After a few moments, the woman --ed off the steps and high-tailed it up Milton Avenue, then disappeared into a pickup truck minutes later.
The patrol pressed on, slowed only once by a fire hydrant.
As the patrol combed the neighborhood, the owners talked about community safety and whether they would have trouble selling their houses if they ever wanted to leave.
As the patrol turned the corner from a side street to go back to Baltimore Street, it confronted another prostitute in slacks and high heels who rolled her eyes, then did an about-face and walked in the opposite direction.
Later a third prostitute, wearing a business suit with a miniskirt, passed the patrol and said mockingly, "People are just terrible aren't they?"
Earlier Wednesday evening, the residents met with Officer John Grosskopf, who works vice and who has spent the last three years arresting prostitutes and the johns who pick them up near the park.
"Pooches on Patrol is working great because the prostitutes really move," he told residents.
Officer Grosskopf said that 85 percent of the prostitutes he arrests are drug addicts. He charges some women with reckless endangerment if they admit they have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The virus causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS.
The officer shares an unmarked car and a van with two other vice officers. Unfortunately, he said, "Everyone knows the van. I drive down the street and the girls say, 'Hi John, I'm not working tonight.' "
Officer Grosskopf said the prostitutes' customers, judging by arrests, are mostly from the suburbs -- Baltimore and Harford counties.