Friday, October 10, 2008

The Commish was upset about Northwood!

Buz attended a meeting at the Northeastern District last night, which featured the mayor and the Police Commissioner addressing the mostly, about 85% African-American, homeowners and taxpayers who live in the district and are frustrated about crime--an issue which gained more traction recently with the murder of former Councilman Ken Harris.

I was especially delighted to see the anger and audacity to speak truth about the situation on the part of Commissioner Bealefeld. He also expressed a bit of frustration with the situation. A couple of tidbits from the upset Commish:
  • Just this past Sunday, in "broad daylight" a woman closing her store in Northwood Plaza was accosted, and forced back into the store, where she was robbed--just four doors down from the Haven!
  • The Commissioner was upset that, with all the emphasis and "commotion" regarding Northwood, this crime was still able to occur, and during the day. At one point, he  practically shouted "someone's not doing their job!" By that he probably meant that the police patrols, and first line supervision, despite the robberies and murders, are not able or willing to do basic police work: patrolling, checking, getting out on foot, etc. (It's systemic problems, along with motivation supervision and training all mixed up here, Commish)
  • He then revealed that the police have received only two phone call tips regarding Harris's murder, despite all the publicity. He, like me, knows that there are folks out there who know. These guys are out and about in the area, probably in the same neighborhood, smoking weed, drinking, hanging out, not going to work, all the things which constitute 'failure to do right'.
  • The Commissioner pointed out that he sat in the shopping center for an hour and a half and no officers noticed him: how would they notice any bad guys?
The meeting opened with a re-iteration of desires of the community by Mary Pat Clarke: that an additional patrol sector be created for the Northeastern district, staffed by 3 sergeants and 33 police officers. And the owners of the shopping center be called in on the carpet and required to be in compliance with the PUD (planned unit development)-a thingamajig granting an exception for zoning.

Mary Pat, God bless her: I love her to death: But Buz thinks she was dead wrong in her statement that because the shopping center is private property, the owners need to stop using the city police as their security guards. She compared this to the private property such as Johns Hopkins Homewood campus or Morgan State's campus. One problem: those colleges are open to the public at times, but basically are for the students and faculty and staff. A shopping center by its nature INVITES THE PUBLIC to come shop, browse, and in this case eat and drink there.  A strip shopping center is a very public place. And we taxpayers want to be protected there like any public street and we want those businesses to succeed and flourish. It's not like an enclosed mall which is just a very big building--though that too is open to the public.
Actually, using off-duty city police as security in uniform probably would not be a bad idea, because the severity of the criminal element in the area is such that even armed private security guards might not be enough to drive the criminals out and the retail mix there is such that not very well off customers are going to come.
(Buz went to Towson Town Center recently and there were FOUR off-duty county police officers, armed, and in uniform, working for the shopping center. One officer told me that , especially on Fridays they need 4, and sometimes more, to maintain order--in addition to the center's own large private security guard force--gangs he was told.)

The commissioner seemed very reluctant to promise the extra sector concept or any other large amount of additional manpower--not even temporarily. Buz wonders if City Hall is calling the shots here: there's probably a concern that every other district will say "me too". 

The mayor and commissioner both lauded the drop in crime and the 4-day, 10-hour shift the Northeastern is using: giving the district more staffing between 9pm and 2am than any other district. It didn't seem to help much in the Harris case nor did it seem to assuage the majority of citizens who spoke last night as being disappointed, if not frustrated with their police service. Northeastern still has only 151 sworn police at NED, just 9 less than authorized strength. (All the districts have 160 officers authorized no matter how big they are, or how busy, or how bad the crime. Eastern, Western, and to some degree Southwestern are supplemented perpetually with Tactical, Traffic, and Violent Crime Impact Division units, though).

The mayor somewhat oddly, during her opening remarks, cited a survey taken by Baltimore's Tourism officials proudly proclaiming that the tourists felt Bmore is a safe city. When one of the citizens interrupted asking, logically, where did those tourists go when they came to town, she was sort of scolded by the mayor, who claimed that the tourists went "everywhere". I guess Mr. Covington at the Haven wishes that busloads of tourists were coming to the Haven to have a cool, refreshing beverage and hear some good jazz-perhaps Big Jesse Yawn. And if they get out of the bus and walk into the club and go directly home, before it gets too late, they probably would feel safe too. Buz will betcha, 24-1, that tour buses rarely come to Northwood Plaza, or Loch Raven Plaza, or Erdman Shopping Center-some of the areas cited by citizens last night. 

The mayor did admit that strong  home ownership is crucial. And here were African-Americans, living the American dream, buying homes and paying taxes, and I didn't feel comfortable that they really were being listened to.

One gentleman pointed up and down the table and said that they participate in citizens on patrol, and that they call, and that they watch out for their neighborhood 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, that they do everything but lock people up. But: "we're being let down". They said there was little police presence in the Loch Raven community, and that THEY HAD NO CONFIDENCE IN THE DISTRICT COMMANDER--despite the commissioner's vote of confidence for the Major. They have tried us the 311 line, but after 20 questions from the call clerk, the police then take forever to respond; the suspects have long disappeared. Sometimes the police never come ( a common complaint that Buz hears).

One man named Tony from the Belair Edison neighborhood said  he is frustrated because when his neighborhood calls for druggies plying their trade, the cops, if they come at all, simply drive by most of the time, sometimes merely glaring at the boys on the stoop. He wishes the supervisors would go on these calls and have the officers get out of their cars, confront and talk to these dealers, and order them to leave and not come back, demand ID, or SOMETHING. He said that he and his neighbors were told (by the police?) to put up no trespassing signs--which many of them have done. But the officers don't enforce them at all and don't question the thugs on the steps where they don't live. (Peter Moskos, in his book about the Eastern District, explains in detail why the police, eventually, stop doing anything about the drug thugs sitting on the stoops.) Buz doesn't think a lot of no trespassing signs or no sitting on step signs is going to help property values much. Poor Tony. He's a real big guy, but I guess since the Dawson and  other cases of "don't snitch" have occurred, I guess even he's not going to go out and say anything to them.

Her Honor did say that the district she lives in, Southwestern, is the worst in the city. Ya heard it right from the top!
She also said at one point that she would love, if she could, to just take the shopping center from the owners. Um, yeah, eminent domain: we could have a "mixed use development" with apartments, shops, offices, and condos. Boy have we heard that expression a few times in the last few years!

Oddly enough, there was no one from Morgan there. Your consultant wonders if their Police Chief or anyone from the school was invited, especially since the own the biggest property on the shopping center site--the old Hechinger's building. You would think that since the Plaza is across the street from the university that they would have a dog in this fight. Buz has learned the Morgan police rarely enter the shopping center and don't really even drive around their building. He read on one talk forum that Morgan tells its students not to go there (unable to confirm).

Buz also speculates that these perpetrators probably live just a few blocks north in the heavily rental area near campus, so he wonders if any outreach to the students with the pictures and the one guy's profile widely publicized with the students might gain some calls. The commissioner can lament all he wanted to last night about only two calls, but these were all "citizens" at the meeting. None of them were in the "game". The people who will know these guys are either in the "stop snitching" culture or they may be student neighbors, who aren't even necessarily aware of the crime.


Melissa said...

Just found your blog via Baltimore Crime.

I live in Charles Village. Our home was robbed in late September while we were at home.

Like Tony in your post, I am extremely frustrated that when I call to report drug crime, the officers drive by and glare. I leave my name/address and no officer has ever gotten out of his/her car to introduce him/herself to me.

When I call, I say that the drug activity is the alley north or south or parallel to X -- I try to be as specific as possible. But mostly what I get is a single patrol car driving down the street, not the alley.

I want to know why the police don't use more of the city code to go after folks -- loitering and curfew violations are still violations, however small.

buzoncrime said...

Oh, hi, Melissa. Sorry for not getting back to you sooner, but don't know how to set it up so the first blog comment alerts me. Subsequent comments I can have emailed to me.

I'm sorry to hear about the break-in at your home in the Village--while you were at home. I hope everything ended without anyone getting hurt. It certainly can be a frightening experience.

When you call, if you really want to see an officer, be sure to tell the 911 Assistant that you do. Are you sure, for safety reasons, that you really want the officer to come to your house?
My guess is that when you call, the 911 Person just keys in the block, and doesn't put any of your comments into the narrative area of her screen. Or the dispatcher doesn't give the info out to the patrol officer (most do; you have a woman dispatcher in Northern District who, when she is working is extremely detailed and dedicated--Angie). And, of course, there is a possibility that the patrol officer for some reason doesn't want to confront anybody the day you call. In the vast majority of cases, the suspects have not got the drugs on them, and stopping and searching them becomes a waste of time, not to mention the possibility of complaints for "harassment".

[Both 911, 311, and patrol officers get dozens, if not scores of these calls each day--I hate to say it, but the response is all over the board.]

Unfortunately, loitering is only against the law in front of alcoholic beverage establishments, when someone is "obstructing free passage", or when there has been a disturbance and people are ordered to move by police (then it becomes disorderly conduct or failure to obey). There used to be a drug-free zone loitering law, but the State's Attorney and the judges believe it is unconstitutional--so it is rarely, if ever, used anymore.
And there is no curfew for adults, though there is one for kids during the day, and late at night--again a law little enforced and with no real teeth.

I'm very familiar with Charles Village, I worked there for a number of years, and am curious as to where you exactly live. Apparently, there is an officer assigned to CV, but his name escapes me.

I recommend continuing to call when you are able, and give descriptions; I don't recommend you give your name/address. The possibility of retaliation is real. You may want to check with the Charles Village list-serve to find the name of the officer; maybe a direct conversation with him might help. As mentioned in my original post, communities across the city are dealing with this issue-despite the oft-mentioned drop in crime. But members of the community who are "street" are solidly entrenched, and their bench is deeper than the government's. Only repeated solid efforts over many months by community activists can make a dent. Some neighborhoods cannot be saved in the short term--such as Tony's.

Melissa said...

I'm the eastern edge of the village, on Guilford. No one was hurt when our home was robbed, thank goodness. But we did lose all our high resolution pictures of our daughter -- all the pictures of her in the hospital and with some family. Those can't be replaced.

I know retailation is real. I read about what happened on E. Lorraine and what happened in West Baltimore. I grew up in South Boston -- a place no so violent as Baltimore but with about as much love for the police.

I had a small community meeting at my home on 11/15 to try to address some of the ongoing issues. Unfortunately, due to some politics around the CVCA, there was confusion over whether the meeting was going forward (it was the same day as the GHCC seminar). We're holding a 2d go round in early December and we hope a rep from the Northern District can make it then.

Re: statutes. I know there isn't an adult curfew. But the youth curfew is especially vexing. I see kids run to their porch or a neighbor's porch when the cops come by only to come right back into the street as soon as the car rolls by.

That's interesting re: the loitering in drug free zones.

Earlier this month, there was a bust of two homes on a street adjancent to our home -- DEA and city police, or so my neighbor tells me.

For the moment, I'm just trying to get my block and the neighboring block together to watch out for each other, report crime, etc. I also requested, via FOIA, information on performance under DoJ grants -- I want to see how the city is allocating money and what Justice thinks of the performance thereof.

I'm under no illusion that the drug problem is anything but deeply entrenched here. And in a city with only 1/3 of kids graduating from high school and high unemployment, how could it not be?