State police launched an intense sweep of drugs and crime in the Clay Street neighborhood yesterday, promising 24-hour-a-day patrols many residents hope will help reclaim their troubled community.
"It's not an invasion. We want them here," said Sally Bean, 52, who has lived in the neighborhood all her life. "Our children need to be able to play in peace. We need to be able to come to our doors in peace and sit on our steps. We don't need every corner filled with drug business."
The state police began patrolling Clay and West Washington streets with 22 troopers yesterday and will continue the sweep, known as "Operation People," for at least three weeks. More than just making arrests and conducting drug sweeps, the troopers plan on working with residents to keep the neighborhood safe even after state police leave.
"We're going to be doing everything from helping kids with their homework to playing basketball to sponsoring a job fair," said Lt. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman. "We hope to help people in the community no matter what their needs are."
State police will join Annapolis officers who usually work the Clay Street beat. Troopers will work undercover and on uniformed patrol, Lieutenant Shipley said.
City police said there was only so much patrolling they could do on their own. "If we put that many people in the Clay Street area, we'd lose one-fourth of our force," said Annapolis police Sgt. Alan Marshall. "They target an area and flood it. There's no way we can do that."
Sergeant Marshall said city police will add to patrols in the area Thursday when a permanent community-oriented police squad moves into the abandoned Butterworth building at Clay and West Washington streets, the center of the neighborhood's heaviest drug dealing.
Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Democrat from Ward 5, asked the state police to begin their operation in the neighborhood. He said the last two times troopers entered Annapolis communities, the open-air drug markets did not disappear but did lose their prominence.
The program was devised at a 1993 crime summit held by William Donald Schaefer, then governor, to ease crime while helping residents get the education and services they needed to force drug dealers from their streets permanently.
In September 1993, state police introduced the Operation People program in the Newtowne 20/Woodside Gardens neighborhood of Annapolis. Then, last July, state police conducted the same kind of sweep in the Bywater community.
Some residents said they already had begun seeing a difference since the first troopers arrived Wednesday night. Community activist Bertina Nick said, "I was out at 9 p.m. last night, and I saw senior citizens sitting outside talking to one another saying, 'It sure is quiet here.' "