In Reservoir Hill, dealers see fewer police and grow brazen Residents blame pharmacy's closing

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The young man in baggy gray sweat pants and oversized T-shirt stands at a pay telephone near Whitelock Street and Linden Avenue in Reservoir Hill. He's a lookout for a nearby drug dealer, and his job is to call the dealer's beeper if a police car cruises by.

But he hasn't seen many police officers in the two hours he's been on the corner, and he's spent much of his time sipping sodas and ogling young women.

Drug deals flourish on many streets of Reservoir Hill, especially along a corridor of Whitelock Street between Linden and Callow avenues. Residents there say the dealers have become more brazen recently because they believe police patrols have decreased.

"Without the police presence, even community leaders begin to wonder, where is your protection and why should I come out and be visible and try to make a difference here?" said Tyrone Gaines, a lifelong Reservoir Hill resident who lives in the 700 block of Newington Ave.

"They need to show their visibility. They need to be more $H involved with the community."

Police officials said there have been no cuts in the number of officers who patrol the area. In fact, the Police Department maintains that it has actually beefed up its presence by assigning a community policing officer to the neighborhood.

However, some residents who live on or near Whitelock Street cite the closing of the Brookfield Pharmacy two months ago as a reason for less police visibility in the community. The pharmacy, located at the corner of Whitelock Street and Brookfield Avenue, was a popular gathering spot for police officers on duty.

"Now look at what we have here -- nothing," said Lawrence Barnes, who lives near the vacant pharmacy. "It ain't nothing else, just drugs."

A reporter recently spent more than three hours for several days -- mostly in the evenings -- near the intersection of Whitelock Street and Brookfield Avenue. Although the area is known for drug activity and is one of the city's designated drug-free zones, only twice each evening did a police car drive through the area -- and then officers did not disperse the large crowds. A city ordinance provides for misdemeanor penalties against anyone loitering in areas declared drug-free zones.

However, shortly before noon on one day -- when the area was not congested with people -- several police cars patrolled the area, and one parked at the intersection.

'They don't seem to care'

While in the neighborhood, the reporter was routinely offered drugs. One dealer was even willing to negotiate a price on his products, one he called "Good Time" and another he called "Bracket."

Residents said the reporter's findings were normal for the community. Mary Thomlinson, who lives in the 800 block of Whitelock St., said she often sits on her front porch on warm evenings and watches drug transactions.

But seldom does she see any police in the area.

"They [drug dealers] are out there all evening long, but do I see police? No," Ms. Thomlinson said. "It's that way all of the time around here. They don't seem to care what's going on."

Reservoir Hill, located near Druid Hill Park, is a sprawling community of about 8,500 residents. The neighborhood is made up of stately and well-maintained townhouses and neat brick rowhouses, along with deteriorating two-story houses with unkempt lawns.

Maj. Charles Dickens, of the Central District station, said there have been no cutbacks in the number of officers who patrol the community. Major Dickens said that officers have already made "hundreds" of drug arrests in the area this year.

A month ago, a community policing officer was assigned to the area, Major Dickens said. Community police officers patrol certain areas to strengthen relationships with residents and to help solve problems.

Officer Vincent T. Stevenson, who since March has patrolled the area on foot and by car, agrees with residents "100 percent" that the community could use more police visibility.

"I try to get out here and meet people and let them know who I am. I'm trying, but we need more [officers]," Officer Stevenson said. "You need someone that's going to want to work foot patrol in this neighborhood. That's what I do.

"I know police ride through this area, but a lot of calls are coming out on the lower end [of the police district], and you've got to answer those calls."

Officer Stevenson said Central District officers are often called to the area near Pennsylvania Avenue and Gold Street, a hot spot for drug dealing and drug-related violence.

He said many officers congregated at the Brookfield Pharmacy because it was one of the few businesses in the area where police officers could take a break while on patrol.

Known as "Doc's," the Brookfield Pharmacy was a neighborhood fixture until it closed in July.

Residents said police cars were often parked in front of the pharmacy. If something happened in the neighborhood, the pharmacy was the first place anyone looked for an officer.

Now the area in front of the pharmacy is a major location for drug trafficking.

"Doc's meant there was [police] presence. That was important. But they're not here anymore," said the Rev. Thomas Composto, who since 1968 has lived and run a church next to the pharmacy in the 900 block of Whitelock St.

Mr. Composto, a lanky, white-haired man affectionately known as the "Pope of Whitelock Street," said he had trouble attracting youths to his summer Bible school because of crime in the community.

"The problem is there's not a big stink going on," Mr. Composto said. "If someone calls and says there's a shooting or a knifing, then they come."

Many other residents agree that police have not been visible in recent weeks.

Unpleasant interaction

LaVon Henderson said he has seen few police since he moved into an apartment in the 2400 block of Brookfield Ave. He said the one experience he had with a policeman was not pleasant.

"He saw my U-Haul out here and thought I was a thief. He made me show some proof that I was moving in," Mr. Henderson said. "It's nice not having police throwing you around for no reason, but it's also nice having them around to make sure nothing happens."

Most residents said police officers still respond quickly to the area when trouble occurs but that regular patrols could preclude incidents from happening.

Mr. Gaines said that despite the area's crime problems, the community does not need police on every corner.

But the lack of police patrols affects many programs he sponsors in the neighborhood, including a basketball league at the James German Playground located on a large area behind stores in the 900 block of Whitelock St., he said.

"People come from different areas for the league but not as much as they used to," he said. "We always get a lot of attention when somebody is shot or somebody is robbed or a drive-by happens. That's when Whitelock is known. But if we had more police, people wouldn't be afraid to come and there would be no problems."

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