Drug crackdown works, mayor says

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's pledge to reclaim 10 drug-infested areas within six months of taking office has been largely fulfilled, police said yesterday, with crime down and fewer people complaining about dealers and addicts.

Homicides and shootings also dropped on streets surrounding the designated drug markets, which police say shows they are not simply shuffling the drug trade from one block to another.

"The liberation of Baltimore's neighborhoods has begun," O'Malley said yesterday while standing at North Rose Street and Ashland Avenue, ground zero for a band of frustrated residents who have confronted dealers.

The mayor avoided making more specific promises and conceded that the successes represent a small fraction of the city's problems, which include as many as 55,000 addicts and too few treatment programs.

Even though no homicides occurred in any of the designated areas in the first six months, killings across the city are 26 above last year's pace, putting the city on track for its 11th consecutive year with 300 or more.

"We are not done by a long shot," O'Malley said. "We have established a beachhead.

"We're not claiming victory until from one end of this city to the other end of this city, on either side of Charles Street and from border to border, every place is a place where kids can play safely," he said.

Some targeted areas might be small in comparison to the city's vast drug markets, O'Malley said, but "we have to start somewhere."

"For years and years," he said, "we did nothing about open-air drug markets on any of our corners."

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris promised to expand the effort to every city neighborhood as his force works toward another O'Malley pledge: to cut the number of homicides to 175 by 2002.

The six-month pledge, he said, "was a symbol."

"The mayor made a declaration that we can do something about this, and I think that's exactly what's been proven," Norris said.

He vowed to "go exactly where the crime goes."

"When we shut down one market and they open up a block away, we go there."

Uneven success

Police acknowledged that their efforts weren't as successful as they would have liked in some neighborhoods, particularly on streets around West North Avenue and Longwood Street, historically one of the worst drug markets.

People who live and work in the 10 drug areas gave the police work mixed reviews. Most agreed crime has gone down, more officers are on patrol and civility has returned to corners where anarchy once reigned.

"One time you couldn't even get through Fayette and Monroe," said Audrey Tuck, 43, who grew up near the West Baltimore corner, the subject of a recent HBO series that thrust the city's struggle with drugs and addiction into the national spotlight.

"You'd have to keep saying, 'Excuse me, excuse me,'" Tuck said. "There were people all out in the street. I think it's looking better. ... You hear a lot of people saying, 'O'Malley ain't playing.'"

Charlie McNeill, 67, agreed. He lives near Harford and The Alameda, and recalled this week how he used to shoo drug dealers off his neighbor's porch.

"You don't see them hanging around here like you used to," he said. "It's definitely better."

It was at Harford Road and The Alameda where O'Malley announced his candidacy and his promise: "Six months after I take office, the open-air drug market of this corner and nine others will be things of our city's past."

Never-ending struggle

Many neighborhoods still struggle with what residents say is a never-ending battle against crime and a per capita homicide rate second only to Detroit's.

"They are still out here slinging drugs," said RonetteMoore, 34, who works at Loose Ends hair salon in the 3100 block of W. North Ave., an area where police concede their effort has not been among their most successful.

Moore said dealers from Longwood and North moved from residential streets to a strip of hair salons, eateries and pawnshops, where they call out the street names for cocaine or heroin.

"Yeah, it's changed; I got robbed and beat by a pistol two weeks ago," said Linda Monroe, 39, while shopping at the center. "That's how it's changed."

On two vacant, boarded rowhouses at the corner, new graffiti serves as a warning, or facetious commentary from the dealers. "Don't do drugs hear. Thank you," it reads.

Success is relative. Rudolph Russell, 75, who lives near Longwood and North, said the stepped-up police presence gives him three hours more sleep.

"Before you would wake up at 7 a.m. - not because you wanted to but because people were hollering about drugs," he said. "Now you can sleep until 10 a.m."

City Council members said they are confident that O'Malley is not playing a political game.

"Are [drugs] gone? Not totally," said 2nd District Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young. "They have moved somewhere else. You keep moving them and moving them and eventually they go away."

Statistics released yesterday for the 10 targeted corners show glowing results: a 65 percent decrease in drug calls; a 55 percent drop in robberies; and a 45 percent drop in aggravated assaults, which include shootings. Drug arrests are up about 19 percent.

Even the "displacement areas" immediately outside the drug zones show declines. Homicides dropped from 15 to nine in those places during the first five months of this year, compared with the same period in 1999.

But the drug trade continues.

Two young men who identified themselves as drug dealers near North Highland and East Baltimore said their business has not been hampered by the increased police presence.

"You've just got to watch your back more," said one, who sported a gash over his eyebrow that he said came from an altercation with an officer.

"The police are deeper than they used to be on the corner, so you can't do everything like you used to. We just go somewhere else and sell. Ain't like it's hurting business."

Police said they can successfully drive drugs inside and reduce street violence, but emphasize that the dealers who make money feeding the city's thousands of addicts won't go away until treatment becomes more readily available.

Health officials said they identified 612 drug addicts near the designated areas. Of those, 236 showed up for treatment and 84 were turned away because there was no space.

Addict interrupts

CherylTyler, 32, interrupted O'Malley's news conference to complain that she can't get into a heroin program. She travels from Cedonia in Baltimore County to buy drugs at Ashland and Rose.

"I want to leave the streets," she said. "But if I can't get into a program, there's nothing I can do." The mayor promised her a slot.

The 10 corners are spread over the city - one in each of eight police districts, and two in the sprawling Southwestern District. They were chosen for their high rates of violent crime, the large volume of drug complaints and the presence of stable community associations willing to "reclaim ownership."

Each has its own successes and failures that highlight the limitations of police crackdowns.

Cocaine sales are down, but mounds of trash fill some alleyways. Teen-agers complain of aggressive police, but residents are happy that they can once again take an afternoon stroll. Complaints abound that the dealers haven't been pushed far enough away.

Some of the drug areas chosen, such as in the southern part of the city, were large, where drug dealing is more dispersed. Other areas, with concentrated levels of crime and drugs, were made smaller.

Police in Northwest Baltimore identified one square block - a pocket of rowhouses two blocks off Park Heights Avenue, a thriving drug thoroughfare in the heart of a sprawling drug-ridden area.

The block - bordered by West Garrison, Queensberry, Oakley and Palmer avenues - is a pinprick in a sea of drugs in Upper Park Heights where more than a dozen killings occurred last year.

The statistics for that block demonstrate those concerns. Last year, police received 665 calls about drug dealers - 441 from the 3000 block of W. Garrison Ave. alone. "Small corners can have big problems," said Officer J. J. Jackson, who was working an overtime foot patrol in the area this week.

In Pen Lucy, off Greenmount Avenue and across from affluent Guilford, police said the 50-square-block community accounted for one-third of the shootings in all of North Baltimore last year.

Memorial to victims

A makeshift memorial to homicide victims remains at the center of the neighborhood - 14 people killed at or near Old York Road and Cator Avenue since 1990 - but a wall across a vacant lot listing the nicknames of slain dealers in graffiti has been painted over.

The Yellow Store, owned by a merchant who was killed during a robbery two years ago, remains boarded up. But a vacant storefront next door is now a church.

"O'Malley is doing what he said he would do," said James White, 75, who lives near Old York Road and Cator Avenue. "He's cleaning up the area. There is no doubt about it.

"Most politicians would come back and say, 'Oh hell, that was just a campaign promise.'"

Police said they avoided large-scale sweeps that make for good photos and television but provide only a temporary fix. This operation consisted of surgical strikes in which dealers and others involved in violence were discreetly arrested and everyone, from addicts to noise-makers, was confronted by aggressive officers.

PinakinPatel has decided to keep his sub shop and grocery store at North Highland Avenue and East Baltimore Street, despite threatening to move in January because of the trash, noise and drug dealing.

"At the start of the year, I had it up to here with this crap," he said, moving his hands above his head. "But O'Malley and the new chief are doing their jobs well. They've made a difference you can see."

Even with crime down, other problems, such as trash, disturb residents. Despite a citywide effort to truck away debris - 355 tons were removed from the drug areas over the past six months - litter remained a consistent complaint from Pigtown to Park Heights.

An alley next to a police substation near North Highland and East Baltimore, filled with trash back in January, looked the same this week.

"Seems like there may be a few less drugs out there but the neighborhood's big problem is still how it looks," said IrvSilen, owner of the Highlandtown Pharmacy, near the alley.

Over at North Rose Street and Ashland Avenue, where residents have fought hard to reclaim their streets and turned a drug house into a community center, Clayton Guyton and Elroy Christopher complained that they get little help from City Hall.

"We're down here, regular citizens, standing on a corner, risking our lives, and we just don't feel we're getting enough support from the city," Guyton said.

"The mayor told us he'd help not only our corner but all the fringes around us."

"He has the capacity," Guyton added, "but he has yet to really live up to his word and show us some real support."

Residents of Pigtown and neighboring Ridgelys Delight, where police say crime has dropped 50 percent and drug complaints fell 60 percent, are still scared.

A dental student was killed in Ridgelys Delight trying to stop a mugging last month, and that has put people on edge. Most of the crime, however, is concentrated farther west, near Washington Boulevard and West Cross and West Ostend streets.

There also were complaints from the southern Baltimore neighborhood of Pigtown. "We still have a heroin triangle," said Kim Lane, executive director of the Washington Village Pigtown Neighborhood Planning Council.

"It was great for a while, when they were patrolling and putting extra police on the corner," she said. "Everybody was being looked at, even the loiterers. Now it's slowly coming back. There's not a police presence like before."

Sun staff writers Tim Craig, Allison Klein, Kurt Streeter and Laurie Willis contributed to this article.

Crime statistics

Reported crimes from 10 drug zones targeted by police:

1999* 2000*

Homicide 15 9

Rape 8 5

Robbery 96 85

Agg. assault 174 146

Burglary 149 100

Total arrests 1,616 1,872

Drug arrests 828 981

Calls for service 23,540 19,095

*Jan. 1 through May 15

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