Police, residents team up for a safer Park Heights; Gun violence targeted; initiative aims to establish 'new rules on the street'

As a mother of nine, Jean Yahudah worries about whether her children are safe in her Park Heights neighborhood.

She has had windows shot out of her Woodland Avenue home, bullets fired through her van, and every one of her children, ages 8 to 31, knows a friend or acquaintance who was shot or murdered during the past few years.


"There's just too much violence," she said. "I want to live in a normal, safe and healthy neighborhood."

Yahudah offered her home yesterday as a gathering point for volunteers, who picked up fliers and spread the word that gun violence will no longer be tolerated in Park Heights in Northwest Baltimore.


Yahudah was also one of dozens of people who went yesterday to Agape Fellowship Miracle Church for a service aimed at winning support for a crackdown on gun violence called Operation Safe Neighborhoods. The service was at Langston Hughes Elementary School in the 5000 block of Reisterstown Road.

Volunteers heard the Rev. Eleanor Bryant, the church's pastor, encourage them to support the program.

"This is an opportunity for us to be a blessing to all of these troubled young men," Bryant said.

The volunteers spent yesterday afternoon handing out fliers alerting neighbors to the stepped-up enforcement and pledging their support to police.

The effort occurred two weeks after state and federal law enforcement officials took 27 convicted felons from Park Heights into the Baltimore City state's attorney's office to warn them that prosecutors and police are intensifying their focus on gun violence in the community.

The offenders could have been charged with a parole violation for failing to attend the Feb. 23 session. They were warned that suspects in shootings face stiff state and federal sentences, high bails and loss of their cars and other assets, said Hathaway Ferebee, a community activist who is working with prosecutors.

"They were told that every shooting in Park Heights would be as aggressively handled as if a police officer had been shot," Ferebee said.

State and federal officials chose Park Heights for the initiative because of recent gun violence, she said. In 1999, 13 homicides and 36 nonfatal shootings occurred in the area and 49 firearms were seized by police, according to statistics compiled by Operation Safe Neighborhoods.


"This is unprecedented in that we never warn people that we're watching them and go after them if they use guns," said Kimberly Bowen Morton, a prosecutor and gun violence coordinator for the Baltimore City state's attorney's office.

Operation Safe Neighborhoodsinvolves prosecutors, police and investigators from agencies ranging from the municipal to the federal level. It is modeled after similar anti-crime initiatives in Boston, Minneapolis and other cities, where police and prosecutors have worked with the community to build support for anti-crime efforts.

Community activists say residents' involvement, with more drug treatment programs and job opportunities for youths, is vital to the success of the initiative.

"Word has to get out that the combined force of the law enforcement community is awesome. The government is showing that they mean business," said Ademola Ekulona, chairman of the Afrikan Men's Group, a support group for African-American males in Baltimore.

Community anti-crime programs have been around for years. But experts said yesterday that Operation Safe Neighborhoods is the first to combine such a comprehensive array of federal and state law enforcement officials.

"The hope is that there will be new rules on the street," said David Kennedy, a senior researcher at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard who has been working with Baltimore officials for two years.