Neighbors want prostitution stopped


In Bolton Hill, where a former president and famous author once lived among the expansive Victorian homes and broad oak trees, residents say they have a lingering quality-of-life problem: prostitutes.

The neighborhood has organized citizen patrols and clamored for increased police presence. But on Wednesday night, their demands for increased assistance swelled at a public meeting that included several public officials, including Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

"It's really our first holistic approach," said Dan Gilbert, president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association, the surrounding neighborhood group.

The area's prostitution problem is largely confined to Eutaw Place, a through street that cuts across the 170-acre neighborhood northwest of downtown. For more than 20 years, the street's grassy, park-like median has served as a popular meeting place for prostitutes and johns, residents said.

About 25 homeowners met for two hours Wednesday with Jessamy, the police major who oversees Baltimore's Central District and other city officials.

Residents told them the persistence of prostitution is preventing Bolton Hill from completing its revitalization.

In the weeks leading up to the meeting, the community suggested solutions that ranged from the obvious -- stricter sentences for convicted prostitutes -- to the subtle -- redirecting traffic so it's not as easy for customers to circle the Eutaw Place median.

Police Maj. J. Charles Gutberlet III told residents that uniformed officers can make loitering arrests, but it requires undercover officers to exchange money and make prostitution arrests.

"This city has a sergeant and five detectives for the entire city to do that," he said.

The gathered residents let out a groan.

"I don't want you to feel it's hopeless," Gutberlet said.

This year, police have made 119 prostitution arrests in the Bolton Hill area, he said.

"If you look at the makeup of the neighborhood -- very well-educated, very well-maintained houses, crime rates are pretty low, the residents are active -- it seems like an unlikely place," said Michele Pankow, the director of community involvement for the Midtown Community Benefits District. The district is a taxpayer-funded nonprofit organization that patrols and helps to clean the area.

But when surrounding neighborhoods -- with higher crime rates and larger drug problems -- are taken into account, Pankow said, Bolton Hill's susceptibility to prostitution is more understandable.

David Rocah, a 37-year-old American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, is representative of some of Bolton Hill's newest residents. He was lured from Washington to the Baltimore neighborhood that was once home to President Woodrow Wilson -- when he was a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University -- and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Last year, Rocah and his wife wanted to move from their rented Washington house and found a nearly 4,000-square-foot Victorian home in the 1900 block of Eutaw Place.

"When we saw it," he said, "I saw people walking up and down the street. I confess it didn't even occur to me then that the people walking up and down the street were prostitutes."

When he went to walk his dog at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, three prostitutes were working in front of his house, he said.

"It's demoralizing to see it going on right in front of your house," Rocah said.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad