Driving west along North Avenue in his maroon sports utility vehicle, Kent Sanders saw what he thought was a Monday evening drug deal going down.
About 7 p.m., the 34-year-old tax collector for the Internal Revenue Service spotted a passenger in a white van exchange something with a man in a thick red, white and blue parka, who was apparently braving a biting chill for a fix at the corner of Dukeland Street.
Sanders, trailed by three vehicles carting 16 concerned neighbors, called officers from a cellular phone locked in to dialing 911, then swung around the block and watched as police stormed the corner within minutes and arrested the alleged drug buyer. The van got away.
Because of tips such as this, police are rewarding the 2-year-old Citizens On Patrol program. At the Penn North community meeting this month, Western District police pledged $2,500 to help the COP program buy more equipment and promised to find a grant writer to help secure $30,000 and two cars to be used for COP crime-fighting efforts.
Up from three members in 1997, the six women and 12 men from West Baltimore drive down streets and alleys three days a week, dressed in matching black jackets, carrying cellular phones and using code names when conversing on their walkie-talkies.
"The whole purpose of the Citizens On Patrol is to gain control of the community, and to identify all of its problems," said Sanders, president of the Western Cluster Coordinating Council, a state-initiated program that runs COP.
In 1997, Sanders helped begin the Penn North COP group and has been the driving force behind expanding it into other West Baltimore communities. Since moving into Walbrook and parts of Druid Hill last month, COP has been coordinating its efforts with the Western District police precinct.
Maj. Kenneth Blackwell said the Police Department has tried to respond to COP calls quickly. Because of the rapid police response, Sanders said, "communities have seen change overnight."
Officer Barbara Sloan, who works closely with COP, said the department decided to contribute funding after learning that many COP members were putting their money into fighting crime.
"That's to help them get anything else they need -- to help them get started with radios and cell phones," she said.
Sanders said he gave the department an invoice of what COP needed -- including walkie-talkies, flashlights and COP signs to attach to their cars. Sloan said the COP program will be reimbursed for the items once the department approves the order.
The crime-fighting group has been roaming the streets since the end of last month. From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays and Fridays and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, their cars roll from Hilton Street to McCulloh Street and from Gywnns Falls Parkway to North Avenue.
Sanders said the COP group usually drives the same route. The cars stay together for safety and to have more eyes on street activities. The group calls police about 10 times in a two-hour period.
"We want to have Hilton to North Avenue so hot that it's not beneficial for them to sell," Sanders said.
Pub Date: 2/25/99