City wants project to grow; Baltimore asks state to add six areas to crime program; 'Contribution to safety'; Problems are down in communities in initiative, officials say

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore has asked the state to double the number of neighborhoods designated Hotspots for crime, making them eligible for grants and crime-prevention programs targeted at small geographic areas.

Officials have identified six communities from Highlandtown to Harlem Park to take advantage of the first expansion of the statewide program since its inception three years ago.

Statistics show that crime has dropped markedly in most of the 36 original community-designated Hotspots throughout Maryland, which share $10.5 million in grants.

The General Assembly has authorized $3.5 million to expand the program this year, including $800,000 for Baltimore.

Cathy Brown, who lives in Cherry Hill, one of the original Hotspot communities, said the program "has made a significant contribution to safety, but a lot of it is not measurable. When you see people coming out at night for meetings, you know that they feel safe."

Brown said she sees residents in every city neighborhood who can fight crime. "People just have to be brave enough to say 'enough.' "

The Hotspot initiative -- started by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend -- combines state and local law enforcement efforts and increases citizen involvement in crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Hotspot areas are chosen because they experience a disproportionate amount of crime but have strong community associations.

City officials are asking the state to designate Highlandtown, Pigtown, Harlem Park, Govans, East Baltimore-Midway and Coldstream-Homestead as Hotspots. They will join the six original areas: Madison East, Cherry Hill, Oliver, Park Heights and two clusters of small neighborhoods in West and Southwest Baltimore.

Betsi Griffith, who heads the mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, said the communities chosen three years ago represented the most violence-prone areas.

This year, she said, officials wanted to choose neighborhoods in different area that had strong home ownership "but were really struggling with the impact of crime."

The program is based on the theory that most crime in a city can be traced to a small group of people in small parts of the city. The idea is to target those small areas where crime seems to dominate.

In many ways, the Hotspot program mirrors the city's latest effort to reduce homicides, in which police focus on the most violent criminals, noting that most crime is committed by a tiny percentage of people.

One of the most visible aspects of the Hotspot program is that state parole and probation officers team with city police to keep tabs on recently released prisoners.

Instead of reacting to violators, they closely monitor former inmates to ensure they get jobs and stay out of trouble.

The Hotspot concept goes beyond police making arrests:

In Cherry Hill, residents and probation officers formed a Young Gentlemen's Club to encourage youths to help suppress disruptive behavior in schools through peer pressure. Five students from each of the four neighborhood schools signed up and have lunch with a police officer once a week in a school's cafeteria.

In Park Heights, police and residents took children on a tour of Sinai Hospital's emergency room and watched a slide show on the effects of gun violence. They were taught that the hospital can be a resource that helps people in times of trauma.

In the western cluster of neighborhoods, residents ensured that judges ordered nuisance offenders to perform court-ordered community service in the communities where the crimes were committed.

Local officials throughout Maryland have until Sept. 28 to submit applications to add Hotspots or expand areas.

Howard County, which has been allowed an additional slot -- assigned based on crime and population -- has picked the west Columbia village of Harper's Choice, which had the second-highest number of calls for police services in the county. In the past year, a pizza delivery person and two residents were shot there.

State officials said Baltimore County might designate Woodlawn and Dundalk as target communities. According to the Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention, violent offenses have dropped at least 17 percent in each of the six Baltimore Hotspots since 1996, including a 30 percent drop in Cherry Hill and a 32 percent drop in East Baltimore-Midway. That compares with a 15 percent drop in violent crime throughout Baltimore.

"It's working," said Connie Fowler, president of the Carrollton Ridge Community Association in Southwest Baltimore. "The police have been working with us. We meet with police every month as a group. I can get in touch with the officers at any time through their pagers."

Fowler said she reviews the statistics that show the crime drop but said she has felt safe only recently. "I feel crime is going down," she said.

But Carrollton Ridge continues to struggle as a Hotspot. Police said drug dealers -- forced out of other areas by undercover initiatives -- have moved into Fowler's community and neighboring Shipley Hill. The result: Five people were killed in 1998, five more in four months this year.

The latest case was that of a 13-year-old girl killed by a stray bullet fired during what police described as a drug dispute between two men. It came days after Townsend visited a refurbished playground taken back from drug dealers.

Park Heights also has its share of problems. Police arrested members of a gang last month that they said distributed more than 2 pounds of heroin a month on a single street corner. Five people have been killed in the area this year, including a minister who was shot during a robbery attempt.

Griffith called the shootings troubling but said the program helped Park Heights mobilize to prevent problems. Noting signs of progress, she mentioned the court-ordered demolition of the Springhill Market because of drug trafficking and a garden planted on Woodland Avenue to "displace the drug activity."

Police said the money for Hotspots was instrumental two years ago in helping them arrest the Veronica Avenue Boys in Cherry Hill and in pouring money into the community, which led to an infusion of millions of dollars to build homes and revitalize a shopping center.

"We still have a problem with drugs and drug-related crimes," said Brown, a resident who directs a community organization called Cherry Hill 2000. "Safety is not at the point where we want it to be. I remember when my neighborhood was a place where I could leave my door open and walk to the store. I want to see it returned to that."

Pub Date: 9/13/99

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