Journal Entries for December, 2003

click here for archive index of previous entries

Friday, 12/26, 2pm: Not too much happened outside my window yesterday. Not much suspicious that is. Lots of kids playing with new toys, especially radical looking radio controlled cars. I'm sorry I didn't get one now, though I'm happy with my new tile saw. Lots of holiday visitors coming and going.

A friend from the fire station told me about drug thugs in the main buildings of Pedestal Gardens who set a fire in the hall using splashed gasoline. PGP officers confirmed it. Late last night. Apparently an effort to intimidate a lady resident who has the nerve to call the police when these thugs are selling and doing drugs and just hanging outside her door. Unlike the Dawson home, the Pedestal Gardens apartments are made of concrete block and steel.

That illustrates well the fact that most of the residents there are victims of the drug trade, not participants, as some allege. Many in these neighborhoods really know what living with terror is all about.

Later, a PGP officer helped with the apprehension of a woman riding with a man who ran from police after he ditched his car at the corner of Eutaw and North. The man escaped. They found a .22 on the seat next to her. "We got a gun off the street," he said. Every one helps.

Officers Brown and Tyler visited Francesca and Shannon and John and Louise briefly at their homes yesterday to wish them Christmas greetings and thank them for their very kind gestures the day before. I think it was nice for both households to see the officers. Officer Brown remarked how different it was for them as they walked through the Bolton Hill street just two blocks to the east of here: "People smiled and waved, wished us Merry Christmas." A very different attitude toward police there than here.

Another Christmas past. And now a new year to anticipate.

Wednesday, 12/24, noon: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and/or Kwansa! Whatever you're celebrating this holiday season, we wish you a happy and safe one.

It's quiet out the window now, drug business wise.  I'd like to think the dealers have quit early to be home with their families. Could be the torrential rain, but I like the other reason.

Officers of the PGP will be here soon. Same schedule, but "at least we get holiday pay."

Both city and PGP officers are apprehensive about New Year's. Baltimore is so heavily armed it seems everyone has a gun and many think it's fun to shoot them off in celebration. Reminds me of scenes of Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi's mindlessly shooting guns into the air in celebration. Apparently some of the PGP officers have heard veiled threats that they might be "accidental" targets.

Last year was pretty quiet around here. No fireworks, either, thank God, except those down on the harbor. As usual, I'll be home. Perhaps watching the harbor fireworks from the rooftop.

I put up a note about the flag raising now scheduled for January 8 at 9am at Eutaw Marshburn. Had a nice talk yesterday with the Sergeant who arranged the color guard for us. She's expecting and is enthusiastic about helping. She's going to see if a young veteran, one the kids can relate to, might be able to attend, perhaps to speak to them about the importance of the flag to him or her. I'm going to speak to the American Legion post across the street. Would be nice to see other veterans there, too.

Spoke too soon 1pm: Things changed fast. PGP Officer Vogt called to ask if I'd seen the group of 30 or 40 people at the corner, all clamoring for "testers" which is the lingo for when dealers distribute free samples. "They were all mad because when I came up on them I took out my pepper spray telling them to disburse before they all got their samples," Officer Vogt reported. As I went to the window to see what he was talking about, I looked down and saw a guy with a huge wad of cash, right in the street next to the old crack house, dealing to a guy in a gold Japanese coupe. Officer Vogt had just ducked into the laundry room at 1715 to see if they were doing business there as they often do.

It seems, like death, crack dealers take no holidays.

Unfortunately, my new neighbor, renting in the once vacant apartment house next door at 1710 was talking with dealer from his front steps, like a friend. Not a good sign. But here everyone knows at least one crack dealer, whether you're a user or not. I know too many myself, by name, license tag, occupation, employees and prison record.

There suddenly do seem to be a lot more people on the streets, just walking around, seemingly aimlessly. They know not to loiter, but they're waiting for the PGP officer to leave. Officer Vogt is patrolling, pushing them back. City officers haven't responded visibly to my call yet. Must be more serious things going on than the commonplace dealing. Or they're working covertly. I hope.

I'm hearing hoots out from both sides now: hoo hoo! Means the dealers have spotted a five O, which has been slang for police since Hawaii Five O, the old police drama. Wish I was in Hawaii for the holiday. It's gray and dismal here. Most of the dismal thanks to dealers who decide to attack the neighborhood on Christmas Eve. Pretty sad.

Officer Vogt just told me on the radio "someone must have gotten paid, it's just crazy out here." Maybe it's that or there's a new shipment of "the really good shit" as I often used to hear on the street from customers leaving 1704.  Or perhaps there's both cashed checks and good shit out. That's a bad combination. I wonder how many kid's gifts and Christmas dinners are getting lit up right now thanks to the local drug kingpin.

Officer Vogt is calling his colleagues on the city Flex team to see if they can help him control the area. I just left a message for Major Skinner, too. The drug gang terror alert level of 1708 Madison just went back up a notch. I've really got to assign colors like the Homeland Security people. I'll start with today's color:


1:30: Just spoke to Major Skinner. He and the Organized Crime Unit are aware the Wilson "market" is busy today giving out testers. Said this was the busiest dealing area today and that officers were working on it. "They give out the testers toward the end of the month, just before the checks come in." Certainly a logical observation based on his years of experience. Such good marketing tactics. I sure wish Kingpin's terms of parole had included not being allowed to live in the neighborhood.

In the meantime Officer Vogt says "I just wish I had some backup, it's hard to control 40 people and the four dealers I'm watching."

8pm: Roller coaster day. Free sample time is over. Sergeant Kluver and Officer Brown are working on apprehending a dealer they know who got away yesterday. They got the buyer and went to court this morning to swear out a warrant. They'll be circulating a mug shot among the other officers. This is one of our notorious dealers. Last night he got sloppy. The officers are hoping to present their Christmas gift to him tonight or tomorrow.

John and Louise brought a home made card and a platter full of homemade cookies earlier. John told Vaughn he is grateful for all their hard work ... especially this week after the officer stabbing and shooting incident involving a young man who was harrassing them. They'll go nicely with some fresh hot coffee on a chilly Christmas Eve.


Shannon and Francesca of Bolton Hill gave the PGP officers a card with a nice cash gift in each. One of the officers said the timing couldn't have been better. He was short on money, thanks to the holiday. She got to visit with three officers while here. It was a wonderful and significant gesture that has touched us all. "Amazing how much people care." That's what the little break room has always been.

This has been a happy way to wind down a roller coaster day on the block.

Monday, 12/22, 10pm: The new flag for the school arrived today. Pretty and bright and big. A letter from Lieutenant Colonel James Grove arrived, too, authorizing the Color Guard. So, we're set for January 8 at 9am to present and raise Eutaw Marshburn Elementary's new flag. Still haven't quite figured out how to raise and lower it from outside, but I'm sure the school will cooperate some how. Hope the band can be arranged, too. It should be a real spine tinglingly patriotic little event. I hope the kids can learn some pride. Not to indoctrinate them, but to give them hope that in this country, things can change. And that our flag is a symbol of that hope, the goals we've accomplished and the dreams we're allowed ... both for ourselves and our nation.

Yesterday, Tom Ridge raised our national "terror alert level" to orange. I don't quite understand it. Are we supposed to use more duct tape on the windows, stay out of public places, exactly what? The system seems to say "Be more scared, but don't panic. We're on the job. Just don't be surprised if something as bad as 9/11 happens." The terror alert level here went back a couple notches toward the good recently when it was confirmed Pedestal Gardens will not tolerate the shuffling around of our good PGP officers, who have been so instrumental in making and keeping the progress here. There for a few days, things had taken a nose dive. At least with the terrorists around here, we know better how they operate. Obviously, their motives are more simple ... and without any purpose but greed.

Last night, the burglar alarm went off at Payne Memorial. No one was responding from the church. The K9 unit found no one. As the city and PGP officers waited, I went back home and looked up Michael Thomas, the pastor there. He lives in Columbia. Left a message. This morning, one of the ranking leaders of the church left me a message thanking me for my concern and for working in the neighborhood. A bit different from the first time I spoke with this lady over three years ago when she said I "was not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood." Apparently I belong now that the character has changed. One day I'd like to work with that church. First on my list is our removing the graffiti that now mars their prize property, NIMROD.

We've decided to convert the crack house next door into a theme time share. The Crack House Condo! 365 time share nights at $100 each should be enough to acquire the house and to fix it. We can maintain one of the apartments to allow a genuine night's stay in a real crack house. "Enjoy a taste of the true Baltimore life. Live The Wire. Own a bit of Baltimore history. Experience the filth, the stench, the crunching vials beneath your feet, the furtive shadows skulking around in the hall ... in a real crack house. " The promotional materials could be darkly funny. I can see passing out flyers like the other timeshares do, to the tourists at the Inner Harbor. Might not make the visitors bureau happy, but I bet we could raise the money.

Tasteless? I don't know. It wouldn't really be a time share. We would make the ground floor into a community center and use the upstairs apartments to house homeless women and their children temporarily while HERO finds them permanent housing. Supervised guests, not tenants. And the house committed to rebuilding Madison, not destroying it. Still we could preserve one of the apartments almost like it is. Just to remember. Maybe one day crack houses won't number in the hundreds here. Maybe one day, they'll be a distant memory. That's one thing about Baltimore. We can dream.

Saturday, 12/20, 2pm: Please read the article in the Sun today about a typical Baltimore burglar and the effect he and his kind have on the city and its residents. Good article.

We've never had a break-in since moving in three years ago. During the months I was visiting each day, clearing out debris, fixing electric and plumbing, I would find evidence of visitors. The yard would have fresh kitchen trash from the neighbors too lazy to find a trash can and accustomed to the 1706 Madison Avenue landfill. The basement would have new crack vials and spent matches. They couldn't get up into the house from the basement because the stairs had disintegrated. You had to use the rickety fire escape for that.

We have three Pit Bull mongrels, one 110 pounds, a burglar alarm system, guns and a very light sleeper for security. Plus, we have frequent, though usually brief visits by police officers using the restroom or zapping their lunches. One never knows when we'll see a police car next. That's really made doing business on our corner inconvenient, too. And we fenced off the former garbage dump so you don't smell rotting food anymore.

Still, we all wish city life wasn't such a challenge. A constant fight. You weigh the benefits versus the crime and filth. Sometimes you stay because of the principle. Everyone else has run, it seems. Sometimes you stay because you can't afford a shiny new staples and glue house in the burbs. And sometimes you stay because of your neighbors. We have too many friends here to list them all. We're all in the same boat. Just crazy enough to stay.

And to them all I wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah. Just four days to Christmas now. And next month I will have lived here three years. Hard to believe. Especially since there are still boards on some windows and rooms completely undone. Progress is happening slow in the house and in the neighborhood. But it is happening.

I don't think I wrote here about the Christmas lights. A neighbor knocked on the door a couple nights ago. That used to scare me. Recognizing him through the peep hole, I opened it, worried there was a problem. "Thank you for hanging those lights. I haven't seen lights on this street in many years." Long time resident from two doors up. It was strange to be thanked for hanging a string of lights. But nice, too. To the dealers I hope it's a symbol of residents taking back their neighborhood. To the neighbors, it's a tiny symbol of progress and hope.

Christmas lights

A special thank you to Jenn who brought the officers coffee, paper towels and trash bags yesterday. Stuff I would have had to buy today on the Sunday Sam's run. We appreciate the help, Jenn. Sometimes the substation is hard on the budget, but it always gets priority, just as it's always warm, something I can't say about the rest of the house. A drafty old house with high ceilings is expensive to heat.

Friday, 12/19, 6pm: Louise and John were involved in the incident the other night when our officer was stabbed and shot his assailant. Louise and John have been long time supporters of the substation, having donated the little couch and sink. The officer who helped them and who was hurt visits the substation regularly. He's always been cheery, usually reads the journal there. I hope to see him again soon, but am glad he's going to have a few days off.

Louise has several postings on the bulletin board at the excellent Bolton Hill website. Very informative. I had no idea what an ongoing problem they had. Louise reports that all the officers and the detectives of the homicide unit have been very professional, courteous and helpful. I'm not surprised. We are very lucky to have many, many fine officers with the Baltimore Police Department. Elsewhere on the Bolton Hill board, I read that car burglars are running amok there, too. And that wreaths are being pilfered all over the Hill. Not in keeping with the holiday spirit to steal a wreath from someone's door, is it? If someone offers you a nice wreath for five bucks, ask him where he got it. It might be fresh off your neighbor's door.

Things around here have been "hot" today. Dealers acting more boldly than usual. We don't have our regular Pedestal Gardens Police officers again today. That's got to have something to do with it. The bad boys are acutely aware of who's on duty, both city and Pedestal Gardens police. They know the ones to be on guard about and the ones who look the other way while they go about their business. I am complaining loudly to Pedestal Gardens management. They seem to think I'm on their side and are surprised when I criticize them. New people. Apparently unaware I'm not on anyone's side but that of trying to make this neighborhood safer. Why anyone is monkeying with the success of the Pedestal Gardens Police is beyond me. And I take great offense.

Vaughn went over to the school today to speak to the principal. I think she figured we weren't serious when we offered a flag. The visit was a good idea. She and the assistant principal both seem enthusiastic, especially when they heard we will have a color guard and band. We spoke of the logistics of raising and lowering it. The head custodian of each school is usually in charge of that. But our flag is apparently against her religion and no one else could handle the responsibility. I find it somewhat ironic that the flag of a nation founded on religious freedom is against her religion. But then I guess I'm not being very PC.

Anyway, I went over earlier to see what we can do about putting a longer halyard on it so the officers and I can do the raising and lowering ourselves from outside. It's either that or put a flood lamp on it. Would be pretty that way, but I don't think the school can afford to install one.

We're figuring to have our little ceremony now on January 8th at 9am. After the kids get their breakfasts. I didn't know the school served breakfast, too. Glad to hear it.

I had an interesting conversation with a ranking officer yesterday regarding my postings here. He asked me to be careful about my postings of sensitive information. He was worried I would be offended at his suggestion. I was not and listened and intend to follow his suggestions. An example he pointed out was my very specific reference to a property the police are trying to control. Apparently several readers called him about it to voice their support. His concern was that I may have compromised his effort by letting the cat out of the bag prematurely. "We don't know exactly who is reading your site," he said, implying maybe the bad guys, too. I think I under estimate how many people read this site. According to the stats, it's about 300 regular readers. I notice many of the domains they visit from have .gov suffixes.

So, I will be more careful, but I won't be censored, either. I remember a neighbor from Eutaw Place who was offended I recounted what I saw the night her property was burned. She was angry my eye witness account had nixed her chance to sue another property owner who was not at all to blame. She said I should submit my posting to her and her friends for their approval beforehand. I think that was the last time I spoke to her.

The officer agreed that the very pointed, very personal attack I made on the owner of 1704 was instrumental in getting that huge problem fixed. I think he was surprised I called it a personal vendetta. I make no excuses for it. It was. It's very personal when you live next to a crack house. Whether it's the former one at 1704 Madison or across the street at 1715-1717. If the property can't be controlled by its owner, it can and will and must be shut down. The owners of property on the 1400 block of Madison need to think about this, too. Whether through negligence or intent, it is criminal to allow your property to be used by crack dealers. We've got to start prosecuting those who do. They facilitate a scourge that kills men, women and children every day and ruins the quality of life for too many of us.

Thursday, 12/18, 2pm: "He went home on his own this morning," according to a Flex Team officer visiting the substation a little while ago. Good to hear. They take it in stride. A mere stabbing in the face. All in a day's work. For police officers.

We had hoped to present and raise the new flag for Eutaw Marshburn next week. Not going to happen. Too many people are now interested and we must coordinate them. Looks more like January 8th, the week the kids come back to school. The National Guard will be there. Ms. Green with the school district is trying to arrange a brass band. We've asked the mayor, but he seems unlikely ... as usual. Doesn't matter. As usual. I think it'll be a nice little event. Maybe the kids will have something to think about when they see their new flag each morning on their way to school. That's what's important. I'll keep you posted as the date and time firm up.

Thursday, 12/18, 9:00am: Lately, I've been wondering if there was anything I cared about anymore. I've gotten jaded, old. Self absorbed. This morning I was reminded of one thing I do care about: our officers in the field. An officer was stabbed this morning by a kid, not two blocks from here. This is an officer who we regularly see in the substation. An officer who I reported here last year was involved in a knockdown, dragged out fight across the street. A good officer who works hard every night to help us sleep.

He had been working earlier this evening with PGP Sergeant Kluver on a stakeout. The Sergeant had radioed me to ask that I be quiet and stand by while they worked. Sergeant Kluver has gone to the hospital to check on the officer. The wound is not life threatening. PGP Officer Vogt and I are waiting anxiously this minute, hoping to hear his eye is not damaged.

Yes, I admit, I have little regard for the kid he shot. According to reports, he is a sixteen year old. I understand he's going to be OK. Lucky for him. I would have emptied my gun on someone who had stabbed me. Still, too often we worry about kids and pretend they are that. In this city, too often kids are not kids. They are amoral predators. But that is our fault. We're raising them. No parents. With schools that can't even put up a flag. Again. Our fault.

As you sip your coffee this morning, please say a word of prayer for our officer ... and the kid who did this. If you read here regularly, you're likely one of those he helps protect every night. I wish he was having a cup of coffee in the substation right now. And when I see him again, I will not take him for granted. None of us should.

Wednesday, 12/17, 1:00pm: Officer Vogt is back on today. Yesterday it seemed none of the PGP officers knew their schedule. This uncertainty was inconvenient for them and unnerving for me. I'm hopeful that we will only see the qualified PGP officers here from now on.

Officer Vogt is already watching the action out of 1421 Madison Avenue. M.O. is you find the dealer and walk into the house now to do the transaction. They had been stashing the drugs in an empty mailbox in the vestibule. City and PGP officers repeatedly grabbed it there so they're doing it inside now. Gotta have a search warrant for that. Going to discuss just that with PGP Sergeant Kluver, Officer Vogt and City Major Skinner tonight at the Community Council meeting.

Last night I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom over the substation and heard the unmistakeable sound of an aluminum ladder going up. Rather late. Looked out and saw a man climbing up a very tall ladder to the cable wires in the middle of Tiffany Alley. Directly in front of the parking lot of the substation. No support other than the wires. Ladder sticking straight up. A breeze would have toppled him over backwards to the pavement. Incredibly stupid. I called 911. City Officer Hittle showed up right away. Caught him in the act. Had cable splicers and other tools on him. The guy was arrested. I imagine for attempted cable theft. My neighbor at 1705 McCulloh Street said he was doing handyman work for them and retrieved what she said was her ladder. She professed not to know what he was doing. Maybe so. Cable theft around here is probably the least of the crime, but it seems everyone does it. Can't say I don't understand the temptation. It sure is expensive and tapping into the cable does seem a victimless crime. I can't say the same for crack. We see crack and heroin victims here every day.

The new flag for Eutaw Marshburn Elementary should be here any day. Will have word from the National Guard about a color guard tomorrow. Hoping we can put together a little ceremony to present the flag and raise it there before Christmas break. Perhaps we can impress on one or two of the kids that the flag is important as a symbol of a country that at least tries to offer them opportunity. If I had to judge the nation from my poorly maintained, inadequately staffed and ill equipped school, I might not be very proud.

Tuesday, 12/16, 4:00pm: I'm angry. Someone has decided to put an unqualified SPS employee in the place of our Pedestal Gardens Police officers today. And now he's joined by a trainee, though the trainee certainly shows potential ... under qualified, experienced supervision. Tonight the Pedestal Gardens area will be "protected" by an SPS employee who was reassigned from here last year because of his knack for not seeing dealing and other crime right under his nose and by a new employee with no experience or training. Real smart.

This is not because a qualified PGP officer is not available. I checked. One is off duty and would be happy to work. Another has been assigned to a different SPS client property. Both are disappointed that what they've worked so hard to achieve has been put in jeopardy.

This is community policing. We have no use for pizza parlor police. I had thought John Copinger, owner of SPS, understood this, especially after the meeting a few weeks ago between all the law enforcement agencies concerned with this area: Baltimore city police, MICA, school police, etc. Apparently not.

Now is not the time for this. We have more than one local mega dealer freshly released from prison and trying to resume his sales territory as he illustrated clearly last Tuesday. And the dealer boys are well aware who's on and that these guys know nothing and are not commissioned. We've seen them loitering in front of the school, just like old times all afternoon and coming and going from 1715-1717 Madison, right under the noses of the unqualified SPS security personnel. I'm sure right now there's at least three stashes of crack in 1715-1717 Madison Avenue based on watching three different dealers come and go all afternoon.

I left a message for Major Skinner about this. Shortly after my call, about school closing time, Foxtrot hovered overhead and in the area. I think as a response to the call. Thank God we have the the more proactive city police shift on this afternoon, not the one with the two lazy officers who have too much influence on the junior officers who would like to do their jobs.

Progress here has been good, but it is precarious. I'm sure if we left Iraq right now that situation would go downhill even more than it has, regardless of whether we caught a tired, scared old man or not. Either we do the work we set out to do or we give up. At least here, we should not give up. There's too many kids at stake.

Monday, 12/15, 4:00pm: Things have died down a bit since last week's spike in dealing. According to the officers, all the checks are spent out. Those so inclined are likely thinking about Christmas expenses, too, I'd like to think, though crack users likely aren't much much concerned about that. I'm sure their money is paying for lavish Christmases for the family of our local kingpin. This year he's celebrating beating the system yet again, getting out of jail way earlier than sentenced.

The same juvenile has been arrested twice now selling out of 1426 Madison Avenue. This last arrest thanks to patient surveillance by PGP Officer Vogt. A track record is being compiled from observations, videotaping and logging arrests and other incidents related to make the case for a nuisance property suit. If she's not careful, the owner there will find her tenants evicted and her property shut down, just like 1704. At this point, she deserves no less.

Last night, a city officer stopped a car for driving with no headlamps. The drivers stopped and ran. PGP Officers Kluver and Brown were there and ran after the suspects, much to the pleasant surprise of the city officer. They lost the suspects, but at least the owner of the car he'd reported stolen just a short time earlier was able to get it back unharmed. Good agency cooperation.

Later, Officers Kluver and Brown apprehended a suspect for trespassing at 1213 Madison Avenue, which is one of the three isolated, satellite properties of Pedestal Gardens. That building has become hot from dealers across the street at the city housing project known as McCulloh Homes. Getting city backup to take the arrested suspect to Central Booking was confused and took some time. We're still dealing with calls to 911 where we should have the direct link, which has long been authorized, between city and Pedestal Gardens police. I'm assured the equipment for the long anticipated professional grade system is waiting only on Motorola. I'm getting impatient with them now, too.

Thursday, 12/11, 5:30pm: Spoke to CD Major John Skinner ( a bit ago. Good talk about recent developments. He agrees with PGP Sergeant Kluver that a certain kingpin who recently was released from prison could be behind the newly organized and deployed drug sales force that showed itself so aggressively Tuesday. He said they had made so many arrests up here between Tuesday and Wednesday that this kingpin actually became shorthanded enough to deal himself.  had been caught with the goods, but swallowed the evidence. Yes, the glass vials with crack cocaine in them. Apparently, officers are disinclined to wait and search the resulting evidence. Can't say I blame them. They deal with enough of that without waiting for it.

He had gotten our SOS message Tuesday and asked if I'd noticed a difference. I was glad to tell him I certainly had seen more frequent patrols and a solid arrest at the corner of Wilson and McCulloh. He repeated what I heard from Flex team officers today that the dealers are becoming more aggressive, violently resisting arrest. This is not news to PGP Officer Brown who was surprised Tuesday at how belligerent the gang was at the Pedestal Gardens Courtyard across from the elementary school, as I wrote about earlier.

I told Officer Brown about the call and he had a good suggestion: Someone should contact the parole officer of the kingpin I was referring to. I called Major Skinner back and relayed the suggestion. He's going to find out if he is on parole. I can't imagine the parole officer would be happy to hear that his charge is back in business ... especially in such a big way.

I'm thinking one thing Kingpin learned in prison was new marketing strategies. He's not stupid, just violent and amoral. His new tactics do seem to be in keeping with Commissioner Clark's stated objective of driving the dealers off the streets and indoors. I agreed with Major Skinner's comment that moving around is better than taking over and occupying corners. They're also taking over more properties. Driving the dealers indoors makes even more sense for putting together a task force to aggressively and efficiently pursue problem properties.

Major Skinner did tell me that there have been 180+ calls regarding a bar at the corner of Linden and North Avenue. He's pursuing "nuisance" action against the owner. This will be good news for Reservoir Hill, I'm sure.

Met some new Flex Team officers in the substation this afternoon. They had never heard of the substation. Two of their colleagues invited them. Gave one my key. It was gratifying to see their reactions. They seemed amazed and appreciative. Typical of most officers.

Their aggressive deployment in the area had them complaining about a lack of bad guys. I was happy to put them in touch with Officer Brown and give them some information on several properties and behaviors of the dealers here. Notes were taken. Certain properties may soon be not so hospitable for crack dealers. 

Thursday, 12/11, 2pm: Maybe it was the full moon Tuesday. It was sure bad. But yesterday's nasty, frozen slushy rain seemed to quell the invasion of dealers we saw the day before. Along with a solid show of force by city police. Today has yet to show itself.

Some readers here have commented, and I've often agreed, that I would have nothing to say if it wasn't to rant about the problems here. That I'd miss the challenges when the neighborhood became "normal."

This recent revisit to old times has proven otherwise to me. I did not miss it. I was actually slowly getting used to not thinking of my neighborhood as a war zone anymore. Acclimating to normal sleep patterns, even neglecting regular gun cleanings, among other things.

And I was turning my attention to serious home repairs. This house still has a long way to go. We've merely staved off its self destruction so far. I was/am looking forward to rebuilding it to what it once was, but always wondered why I'd want to do that. Not after I realized I wasn't sure from day to day if I could tolerate another day of sleepless, scared nights and depressing days of wandering addicts, gun shots, police chases and loitering dealers all about.

To be sure, things are different here, even for this recent invasion. We have the PGP. We are on the map downtown now, on the city police radar as never before. I hope this has been what will prove a futile effort by men and boys, who know nothing else, to reclaim their very profitable sales territory after their "vacations" at state expense. We'll see.

Other readers have commented that I must be gratified about Norris' indictment. Maybe a little. I did not appreciate his sudden abandonment of the city he professed to care so much about. I felt we abandoned by our general in the middle of the war. It's obvious the mayor felt betrayed, too. I did not appreciate his huge severance package from a city that has no money for schools. I did not appreciate his interviewing for a "better" job just months after being hired here. (Though everyone knows our mayor has his eye on bigger and better jobs, too.) I did not appreciate his unapologetic response to allegations of using that slush fund for himself. I never appreciated what I saw as his arrogance, his photo op chasing, his self promotion at every turn.

Much of the progress during his tenure here reflected national trends and simple common sense improvements, more than any special gift on his part. But he was here and at the helm during that progress and men and women with real qualifications to assess his performance (unlike me) have high regard for his work in Baltimore. Already I think he's been knocked off his high horse enough, though. Not that there's any significant analogy, but it was years before I forgave Ford for pardoning Nixon. It was years more before I forgave Nixon, too. He was the star player in my realization as a youngster stumping for McGovern that politics often has little to do with honesty or fairness, that at best our nation strives to attain its ideals and rarely reaches them. A lesson brought home again and again in this adopted city of mine.

As I've said before, Norris is old news for this neighborhood. And that's what this writing and our efforts are about: this neighborhood. And Norris' replacement seems a competent, hard worker, not a flamboyant politician.

Something that should be more important to all of us is our city council. I am amazed, as jaded and cynical as I am now, that the council would spend city money to hire outside attorneys to handle the subpoenas by the Feds about their possible unethical behavior. It was never a question to me, whether it was tradition or not, that a city employee should not hire a relative. Nepotism is not a philosophy, it is simply unethical and bad business, public or private, as Councilman Mitchell seemed to agree. But why in the world should city taxpayers pay to defend council members who haven't even been charged yet? Even then, why should we pay to defend them for their misdeeds? I don't know many employers who would do that, do you?

By the council's logic, the state should pay for Mr. Norris' defense. I don't think that's being considered in Annapolis, but I'll bet most people there are shaking their heads yet again at the Baltimore political machine which so damages Baltimore's credibility. I was glad to read Councilman Jack Young said something to the effect "why should we be worried if we did nothing wrong, they're just asking for information?" But such common sense is not common here. It's madness. And not surprising for Baltimore.

Tuesday, 12/9, midnight: After a much improved summer, this fall is rapidly spiraling back to the way things were around here. Today I watched as dealers in groups of three and four patrolled back and forth down Madison in front of this house, around McCulloh, down two blocks to Druid Hill via Wilson and along Madison, across from the main courtyard of Pedestal Gardens. Not singing out their colors like they used to, but definitely keeping lookout, one taking the money, another handing off the product.

At one point, Officer Brown confronted a group of ten young men, obviously dealing, across the street from the elementary school as it let out. They would not disburse when he ordered them to. He asked me to call for backup. I got a good 911 operator who seemed to understand what we were requesting, but no officer showed up for 30 minutes. They're well aware that you'll have a hard time getting a patrol car during shift change, which happens exactly as our school lets out, between 2:30 and 3pm. Officers take a half hour or more to get downtown and half an hour or more to get back to their beats. All too often this makes a nice, reliable hour in which to do business.

Fortunately, a city officer assigned to the Police Athletic League after school program saw what was happening and came out to assist. Together they approached the crowd which then separated, six going up Madison to their new crack house there and three who decided to go on their new route down my way. While communicating my observations to Officer Brown, pretending to be busy only clearing ice in front of our house, the three walked up behind me very quickly, turning within two or three feet. One hissed. No other sounds. Their intent to intimidate was clear, but not so overt as times before.

I made some calls to the police contacts I know with no luck. Later, Officer Brown flagged down officers of a Flex team and told them what was going on. Later, the Foxtrot helicopter swooped down over the corner of Wilson and McCulloh and city officers arrested two of our new roving dealer pack. According to one officer, these dealer boys tried to resist arrest violently. Fortunately without guns. They were quickly overwhelmed. It has gone all afternoon like this and the dealing is still going on right now. The current shift of PGP Officers is trying to do covert work and catch them in action. City officers of the midnight shift have been seen in the area more than this afternoon and I hear Foxtrot still.

Madison Wilson area

All this dealing is not headquartered out of Pedestal Gardens properties or in 1704 this time, but in five new places. 1421 Madison is owned by the wife of a man arrested by PGP officers not long back. 1426 Madison I reported on yesterday and is confirmed to be presently used as a stash and use house today. 1600 McCulloh houses at least one dealer, its landlord from NYC who has a "property management company" here that doesn't answer calls. 1709 McCulloh has been raided by the city police Organized Crime Division just a couple months ago, but is back to its old ways already. And there's definitely a dealer command center in one of two houses as the corner of Druid Hill Avenue and Wilson, just two blocks west toward the infamous hub of Central District dealing and squalor, Pennsylvania and Laurens. Apparently this where the leaders direct their operations here.

All this is courtesy of a locally infamous drug dealer who murders and maims. He's out of jail now ridiculously faster than his sentence dictated. And we know of at least three of his lieutenants who recently got back out. They're setting up shop again and doing a very good job of it. Their concerted progress is exponentially spiraling out of control.

A city police officer reports just now, about 1am, that dealing is "off the hook" all over this sector which includes Bolton and Reservoir Hills.

We're under seige ... again.

Monday, 12/8, noon: Dealing's been up. Not to old levels, but a lot more effort lately on the part of the bad boys to take back their former turf. PGP Officers Brown and Tyler report they've taken to new strategies, constantly moving around. And they've taken up residence in an occupied apartment house at 1421 Madison, directly across Mosher from Pedestal Gardens. Anyone who reads here knows how hard it is to close occupied crack houses. The vacant house at 1426 is wide open again, too. The young woman who reported she was the owner gave us a telephone number that's been disconnected. Surprise, surprise. Her supposed handyman's cell phone number is disconnected, too. And her mailing address is listed as the vacant crack house. Hmmm, seems a bit suspicious, doesn't it?

David sent me the following article from the NYTimes. Seems they're getting creative in Compton, CA. We need some creative solutions, too.

That Skunky Smell Is the Odor of Success


Published: December 7, 2003

COMPTON, Calif.— A small posse of sheriff's deputies in Compton has unleashed a new weapon in the war on crime.

It is remarkably small, improbably inexpensive, stunningly low-tech and for the last seven months has proved incredibly effective. So effective in fact, that Lt. Shaun Mathers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department wonders why more departments have not realized that such a tool might be right under their noses.

"I was kind of grousing with some friends," he said. "What could we do to make our officers more visible in the community? And someone said, `Maybe we could use a good odor, like fresh baked cookies.' As I was driving home, it struck me. Maybe there's a value in a bad odor."

That value, Lieutenant Mathers thought, would be in clearing out the vacant buildings that become magnets for prostitutes, drug dealers and gangs. After a few experiments with chemical stink bombs, he and Deputy Scott Gage found a petroleum-based gel called SkunkShot on the Internet. "It's pretty weird," Deputy Gage said, "but it's brilliant."

And the Skunk Squad was born.

The squad's first success, says Lieutenant Mathers, came last spring on Long Beach Boulevard.

"There was an old vacant bungalow-style motel which is in a heavily populated prostitute area," he said. "People were coming and going to use narcotics. One part of it had even burned down because they were using candles to light the place. It was dangerous."

One day in May, the deputies took several small $15 tubes of SkunkShot and spread them around the building, which they had just cleared of the drug users and prostitutes. Several hours later, Lieutenant Mathers was amazed to find no one there.

"It's horrible, just unbearable for two days," he said of the odor. "After five or six days you can still smell it. We even got in a battle of smells with the folks there. They were bringing cans of Glade and scented candles, but that stuff just can't compete."

The inventor of SkunkShot, an Australian named Andrew Rakich, is a laser and satellite engineer by trade. He said he thought of the idea 10 years ago as a sort of aerosol for women to use to fend off attackers or as an animal repellent for gardeners.

The product is synthetic, but chemically its components mimic a skunk's musk.

"We're certainly not milking skunks," Mr. Rakich said in a telephone interview. "That would be one of the worst jobs in the world. I've never even actually seen a skunk myself, but we're all aware of them down here thanks to Pepé Le Pew."

Mr. Rakich said a gel using the scent of cat urine was being tested.

Though the gel is a serious crime-fighting tool, occasionally it is used for practical jokes.

"That's one of the reasons we keep it on the down low," Deputy Gage said. "You know those push-down soap dispensers? Well, allegedly someone put some of the product in one of those in the men's bathroom."

The product was put to a more official use on a recent sunny afternoon in Compton after three sheriff's cruisers converged on a dilapidated apartment complex.

The deputies first found a contractor who said he was taking photographs for the bank that owns the property. Next to emerge were three bedraggled men and a woman clutching a kitten she called Sylvester.

One of the men, who would not give his name, said he had stopped by to check on a relative. "I got family here," he said, "But I wish they'd skunk the place so my people will leave and get themselves together."

The woman, Tammy Clarke, 39, said she was a mother of 12.

"Instead of putting drugs around my sister or my kids," she said, "I prefer to be out here."

Still, she says she can understand why the police would want to keep people out. "It will make it safer here, but it won't make it safer on the street for us."

After giving Ms. Clarke time to find her two other kittens, Garfield and Tweety, Deputy Dan Drysol put on two pairs of latex gloves and headed into the first of the vacant buildings. There, among the crack vials, pornography, mattresses and candle-scorched floors, he spread the gel. Immediately, the rank smell of human waste was overtaken by the eye-watering stench of the SkunkShot. "You think it's bad now," said Deputy Drysol, "in an hour it will be unbearable."

After leaving the complex, the deputies checked out an apartment building where they had deployed the SkunkShot weeks earlier. The place remained vacant, and the upstairs apartments were being renovated.

Deputy Matt Vanderhorck says a cascade of crime is avoided by keeping people out of vacant buildings.

"It's not just the people trespassing. If they had never pulled the boards down and used this place to live, those guys never would have cut their dope open and the hookers wouldn't use this place as their hotel," he said of the first apartment complex. "And of course it really affects the people who live around here. I mean, there's a nice little house across the street and then this place."

I may order some for 1426. I can think of several other houses in town that could use some dealer repellent.

Thursday, 12/4, midnight: Every day we lose more troops in Iraq. We wonder if they're being sacrificed for good reason. We want to believe. Some of us wonder, though we know the troops are not in question. We're enormously proud of them.

Today, we lost a soldier here at home. US prosecutor Jonathan Luna. Found stabbed to death face down in a creek near Lancaster, PA. No one doubts why, though I suppose it might come out to be unrelated to the case he was prosecuting. Stash House Records. A name alone that shows such contempt, such unmitigated gall. Mr. Luna angered arrogant, amoral drug dealers who believe themselves beyond the law. Above it. Young men with no morals whatsoever, who place their profit above all and have totally forsaken their humanity. Today they showed us yet again how much less than human they are.

And still, we continue to raise yet another generation with no parents and abysmal schools. How can we expect things to change when we do nothing new? We're busy raising another generation of these men because we can't balance books and run a school system here. But hey, we can point fingers. That we're good at.

Why do we meddle in the affairs of another country that doesn't want us when we have so much to do here at home? I'm not an isolationist. I believe in our responsibilities as a member of the world community, but we have our own problems. Why do we pretend to have the solution for other countries when our own is far from right. I'm reminded yet again of the guest book entry on this site many months ago from a reader in Sweden, "good luck in your local war."

Mr. Bush, Mr. Ashcroft, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Cheney: I know where some real terrorists are. They're right here. And they actually do have weapons of mass destruction: weapons delivered in little glass vials and syringes every single day.

The first snow of the season is falling now. I always enjoy this event, but after the holidays, the decorative value fades and I'm ready for it to go away. The seasons change. Always a bit of a surprise. Still, reliable. Never changes. Comforting in a way. Unfortunately, America's impotence seems just as reliable. We can't fix our own problems, so we try to fix other's. Human nature, I guess. I know my friend's problems are always clearer, more easily addressed than my own. I guess it's no different for the nation.

So, as the snow falls tonight, please think of a lawyer who devoted his career to the war here at home and who was murdered for it, leaving a young family behind with no answers. Left to wrestle with the why for the rest of their lives. No different than any soldier in battle.

Tuesday, 12/2, 4pm: This morning about 9, Vaughn reported a half dozen dealers on the corner of Madison and Laurens, next to the church. Looked like old times. Heard from a church porter later that they were distributing free samples. Just like those pretty ladies who distribute free packs of cigarettes in bars now, even though the Philip Morris website headlines are about how to quit and how bad cigarette smoking is now. Amazing what a lawsuit can do.

Anyway, a couple calls later and PGP Officer Vogt will be in early tomorrow morning. The schedule is going to be shaken up to keep the dealers guessing. Whether it is or not, it will seem like 24/7 supervision. And they won't know when it is or isn't. Commissioned Officer Vogt will be happy to arrest the guys selling and giving away free samples tomorrow and other mornings. To the dealers: If that's your game, please try to do business here anytime and see what happens. Officer Vogt and the other dedicated PGP officers, working with city police, will be waiting for you, and you won't know where or when.

It ain't going to go back to what it was. All the PGP Officers and this neighborhood will not let it.

Our new, young PGP officer, Joseph Beadles, is on tonight with Sergeant Kluver. The two of them will make a good, enthusiastic team. Experience and youthful enthusiasm combined. Good timing. It's the first of the month. Checks are getting cashed. Dealing always goes crazy this time of month until the free money is spent up on ten minute highs and stark reality comes back in focus, creating the desperation that fuels our street crimes.

Great news: I have it on good authority, and confirmed independently, that the radio system for the PGP officers is waiting now only on Motorola. It's bought and paid for. About two weeks to delivery. Thank you, Mr. Copinger, (owner of SPS, the firm employing the PGP) for coming through. You told me to be patient and it appears you were right. I'm also told that arrangements are complete for the repeater system to be placed on the Marlboro Apartment building on the other side of Eutaw. I had volunteered my roof, but the Marlboro is 12 stories, I'm only three. A 40 watt repeater there will reach downtown to the Central District desk easily and all the way to the Essex dispatch offices of SPS reliably. Redundant backup for life threatening situations. Ideal.
Soon, the PGP officers will be able to reach city police for backup instantly and reliably and to talk to each other in the farthest reaches of the Pedestal Gardens Community, including basements and behind buildings. My days as amateur dispatcher may be over soon. About time and thank God. Though I think part of me will miss helping.

Trying to arrange a ceremony to give the school its new flag. Not getting very far. Not much enthusiasm. Officer Brown remarked just this afternoon it might only be the PGP officers and me. As I think about it, I'd rather have three people who care there for a new flag raising ceremony than a hundred who don't. Same for raising and lowering it, each and every day. If the school staff can't handle it, PGP officers and Vaughn and I will see it's raised and lowered and cared for properly. There is no room for debate or question or committee or bureaucracy about something so right, so fundamentally American.

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