Journal Entries for November, 2003

click here for archive index of previous entries

Sunday, 11/30, midnight: Was listening to PGP Sergeant Kluver and Officer Brown as they discuss surveillance of a building. A moment ago, they alerted me they were interviewing a suspect at 300 Lanvale. They wanted me to be aware he looked like he might be armed, judging from a bulge in his jacket. Turned out he didn't. Was simply drunk, loitering. The bulge was a beer bottle. Standard Operating Procedure for them to let me know about stops in case things go bad. I'm still acting as lifeline for city police backup. Still don't have the real radio system. More excuses and delays, but more assurances that progress is being made. I hope so. Getting the radio system has never been a complicated matter, simply required the willingness to do the right thing. It's been way too long ... for no good reason.

new additions

Met a regular reader from Bolton Hill today. Sarah, Caroline and Kevin came by to drop off some freezer snacks, bottled waters and coffee. Just a sampling is shown. It looked like she went shopping for the family. Several packages of good microwaveable hot snacks. Should make a cold officer's day. And the coffee is surely appreciated. We're keeping the thermos full, using the new coffee maker we just bought.

To the right in the picture is a new toaster oven courtesy of Officer Claude Melcher who recently left the PGP for greener pastures. He now has cushy, warm inside work in a biotech lab downtown. His car is securely parked, too. He's unlikely to be shot at, yelled at or have his tires slashed in this job. I asked him not to tell the other officers about any more openings there. <g>

The worker employed by the owner of 1708 Eutaw who was caught dumping construction debris in the alley and on Pedestal Gardens property has mailed a complaint to their boss about PGP officers harassing him. Apparently he's trying to save face. It'd be better if they simply didn't dump on our neighborhood. Perhaps the PGP Officers should have arrested them or at least had them cited. Giving them the courtesy of a warning doesn't seem to be appreciated. If I see it in future, and I'll be looking, I'll file charges without any hesitation.

Interesting to read in Sunday's Sun that former Commissioner Norris' charm seems to have failed him finally. The Governor is rumored to be scouting for his replacement thanks to the mounting Federal corruption investigation. Norris made little excuse for his squandering of the "discretionary fund" for things like lavish lunches and parties and interviewing for "better" jobs while working for this cash strapped city. The ridiculous salary and overtime paid to his driver and the apparent kickback are pretty telling, too. I guess I'm still one of the few who's glad we have a new commissioner.

Far more important than Norris, who's old news, is the story of fourteen year old Walker Coleman, shot in a playground across the street from where he lived. Read his story in the Sun online. It's the story we all must work harder to prevent.

Was reading an earlier edition of the Baltimore paper this afternoon ...

The Baltimore News & The Post

Today I found this in a crevice between bricks of the outer hearth of a fireplace I'm trying to rebuild here. The Baltimore News & The Post. One article's headline: "Jury System Breaks Down In Many Criminal Cases." The author laments "One of the reasons why so many crimes in this country go unpunished and so many criminals remain at large is to be found in the law's delays ... many unscrupulous lawyers abuse their professional positions by incubating litigation to defeat the ends of justice."

Another article speaks of Mayor Jackson's "favor's list" surpassing 30,000 Baltimore citizens this day. Apparently Mayor Jackson made no secret of writing down every "favor" he did for citizens and proudly announced it. We're left to wonder how he collected on the favors.

Elsewhere in the rolled fragments: "To the first LUCKY 2,000 men and women who visit the Apparel Shops of BLUM'S 2 stores Saturday--one beautiful 8x10" sepia-tinted picture of either [John Barrymore or Carol Lombard] ... 2 famous stars appearing in the big comedy hit ... 20th Century." Another illustrated ad features fancy lady's shoes for $1.29. In the classifieds, you'll find your car can be painted for $15 and that all cars are required to have headlamps now. And now they can be adjusted at any of five stations in the state.

Thanksgiving 2003: A day to be thankful. We have much to be thankful for here, that's for sure. There are a dozen kids out playing ball across the street this afternoon. All smiles and happy. No "greens out, greens out, greens out!" No loitering dealers, hanging on the corners. 1704, next door, is quiet, too.  A crackhouse no more. That's more than enough to be thankful for here.

If you haven't already visited this site, treat yourself to the Flash animation at this link and website. It's truly beautiful...

http://www.jacquielawson.com/viewcard.asp?code=0183913358

I wish all our friends, supporters and officers just as happy a holiday too.

Wednesday, 11/26/03: I've been thinking about the school across the street lately, what with the headlines about the huge "surprise" budget deficit and now massive layoffs. Baltimore schools have been a large part of the reason for the decline of the city over the years. Young parents don't want to send their kids to bad schools so they've chosen to live in the County or burbs. Those Baltimoreans who can, send their children to private schools. Most of us can't afford that.

For months now I've noticed the tiny, tattered US Flag atop Eutaw Marshburn's flag pole at the corner of Eutaw and McMechen. Then I noticed it disappeared. From its condition I figured it had finally just frayed to pieces. A flag symbolic in more ways than one.

This afternoon I spoke to Sheila Mitchell, the principal. I said we wanted to get her a new one. Also offered to help should they find they need some repairs  there's no one to do. I read yesterday that of five painters on school district payroll, four have been laid off. I can just imagine how the buildings will look soon.

She told me the old flag had been taken down at the request of a neighbor who felt the frayed-to-ribbons condition of the old one was disrespectful. It truly was embarrassing. But no flag on the pole at all is not much better.

I asked how it was taken up and put down. Turns out that was part of the problem. Apparently one of the custodians would not touch it because it was against her religion. "We tried to get a male teacher to do it, but he didn't have the time."  In my days in elementary school, we considered it an honor to be flag monitor. It was a reward to be chosen and we treated the flag with great reverence and respect. But those were days long ago.

It boggles my mind that a school paid for by US taxpayers cannot fly a US flag. Especially during a time when we are losing young soldiers again every day.

Regardless of your stance on the action in Iraq, opinion of the current president or other politics, the American flag represents great accomplishment. Far more importantly it should represent great hope. Especially to kids in elementary school.

US Flag

We've ordered a new, embroidered flag, for the school. Should be here next week. It will be the size of the big flag we recovered from the crack house where it was being used as a drape to hide behind while Clarence Weston's crackhouse's guests sold drugs and conducted prostitution. Anyone who went to the BBQ saw it and will recall Swift Flag Repair restored it for us.

It's occurred to me we should have an assembly (do they still have those anymore?) when school opens one morning soon to raise it the first time. I was thinking about who could inspire the kids most. I thought of politicians and police men, but then it occurred to me, we have veterans right here in the neighborhood. I've put in a call to the National Guard, which has its headquarters just over on Howard. I think we're going to arrange a color guard and perhaps we can find a local veteran, perhaps a young one, to do the honors.

I'll keep neighbors posted on this here in case you'd like to attend. Seems like it would be a nice way to spend a few minutes on your way to work one day. And it will be nice to see a symbol of all that's right with America where it belongs ... in a place where so much is wrong. Hope and faith must be nurtured in our youngsters, even when it takes an effort to have either for so many of us adults.

Tuesday, 11/25/03: While on the Crime Orientation Bus Tour with Major Skinner and community leaders month before last, Club Choices and Trip's Place in the 1800 block of North Charles were pointed at by both the Major and the area community representative as a huge problem for local residents and a drain on police resources. Major Skinner said many officers had to stand watch to control a clientele the owner couldn't ... or chose not to.

This owner has the same attitude Clarence Weston did: "what my tenants [customers in this case] do is not my responsibility." They expect the rest of us to deal with and pay for it. Infuriating.

And now the city has decided to reward this attitude: buy the property from the owner, likely at great profit. Check out the article in today's Sun.

What a way to hold a property or business owner responsible for the damage he does to a community! Perhaps the city should have offered to buy 1704 Madison from that crack house slumlord rather than prosecute him for allowing his tenants to live in filth and danger. I couldn't get the city or anyone else interested in closing down the crack house using the outstanding tax lien from the fact this property owner has never paid his taxes on the property.

But we can afford to buy out a man who runs a very profitable, rowdy, loud, all night bar at which there are hundreds of logged police responses for crimes ranging from disturbing the peace to drugs, fights and shootings.

Why can't we target property owners who actively destroy their community and cost the city a hugely disproportionate share of police, medical and fire resources?

In the case of the crack dealing at 1717 Madison Avenue, a new, self-contained police force has been formed with the Major's goal that the entire complex of four properties be "99% self sufficient," a goal that's being realized. In fact, the surrounding residents are even benefiting from increased policing, improving the whole neighborhood. No longer are those buildings haven for the dealers who terrorized this neighborhood so long. As with Clarence Weston, the property owner was held accountable, not rewarded.

Anyway, just seems wrong to me.

Response to my posting about the kids in the neighborhood has been strong. And quite touching. Especially from some parents of youngsters in our more affluent neighborhoods. The idea of incorporating some sort of healthier, affordable, meal program for the local kids into the community center we're envisioning next door is a good one, I think. I'm sure any effort could do better than a bag of Cheetos and a warm soda pop for $2. And it would garner much support. We need to figure out a way to acquire 1704, fix it, and make it contribute something back after the long time it helped destroy lives while making money for its owner and the dealers who used it.

Monday, 11/24/03: After a dry spell, several of our substation supporters brought a lot of good stuff over the weekend. We have toaster pastries, fresh fruit, more burritos, popcorn, bottled waters, cookies, coffee ... A wonderful assortment. Thank you Ken, Leslie, Ari, Ryan, Ann-Marie, Carl and Peggy. It's wonderful to be able to offer so much. Officer Harding especially likes the new fruity toaster pastries. We'll make sure she has them when she gets the urge. I must get a new toaster oven. Meant to get one recently, but then the old coffee pot gave out. We had to replace that instead. When winter sets in, toasted bagels and pop tarts and the like will be big movers. With lots of happy smiles. I don't know about you, but I like smiling cops. I don't know if it makes it better if the officer who runs after and arrests you when you're selling crack is in a good mood, but I think it must be better than a hungry, constipated, grouchy officer. <g>

Met a new officer this afternoon. Officer Goode. What a great name for a police officer. Bright eyed, enthusiastic ... even at the end of her shift. Appreciated getting her own substation key. I enjoyed welcoming another officer to our substation. A lady officer, Sergeant Jackson, was the genesis of the whole idea of a private break and restroom here. I will always remember her comments about what it's like to find a decent restroom for a lady in the middle of the night around here.

PGP Sergeant Kluver was stranded last night and slept on the futon we've donated to their substation. His alternator belt slipped off. He's pretty handy in law enforcement, but mechanical stuff is not his thing. He was talking about towing it to a repair shop. I was able to fix it for him and get him on his way early this afternoon. I have word his wife is making us chocolate chip cookies. Seems like a more than equitable trade. These guys, like me, don't make much money. We need to help each other when we can. God knows, they've helped us ... a lot.

Saturday, 11/22/03:

The 40th Anniversary of the Assassination of John Kennedy.

Dr. Dan from Eutaw Place reports Major Skinner met with him at his home to discuss the car breakins there. While there were no promises, at least the Major took the time to listen. And the breakins seem to have ended. Perhaps it was a single person who's been caught. PGP Sergeant Kluver tells me, and city officers agree, that some people walk long routes through affluent parts of the city looking for cars to break into. Especially cars in poorly lit areas like the 1700 block of Eutaw. Hopefully this spate of crimes is over, like the crime wave in Bolton Hill.

Visited the tiny store behind my house yesterday to get what turned out to be a warm soda that cost $1.25. This is the store which feeds the rats nightly with all its garbage. Stood in line behind a young woman and her three knee high children. She was clutching her "Freedom" card, pointing to the Twix, Cheetos, Payday, sodas. "One of those, one of these, and a bag of popcorn." The little ones did what little ones do: Tugging on her sleeve, they pointed with big anxious, hungry smiles "I want a Twix! I want a ...!"

I looked around in the store while I waited for the $12 bucks worth of junk to be bagged and rung up. Watched one of the kids inhale his Twix. I was dumbfounded to realize there was nothing, nothing at all with any nutritive value on display. Absolutely nothing. Unless you count milk chocolate and peanuts. A neighbor told me he did buy a loaf of Wonder Bread there once, "moldy and she wouldn't give me my money back." You could tell these kids were hungry too, not just sugar addicts. Reminded me of the BBQs when the kids swarmed the hamburgers. Last time they were so anxious our program nearly didn't happen and had to be cut short to get on with serving the burgers.

There's a little guy who lives across the street I've mentioned more than once in these pages. Loves Vaughn's dog Boo. Sweet kid. About eight. Great smile. Great hopes. Polite and well behaved. And about a foot shorter than he should be at his age. We see him after school each day on his way to this little store for something to eat. Sometimes he asks for a 20 cents, 15 ... "I need 17 cents more." He knows we don't mind helping him after the time he meekly asked if he could have one of the freezer burritos we keep for the officers to microwave. Naturally he got one which he gulped half way down on the substation steps. He stopped eating, wrapped up the other half. I asked why. "My sister."

I usually try to confine my entries here to issues involving the neighborhood's safety and improvement. Perhaps I'm digressing. Or not. Seems to me kids who eat junk when they eat at all can't be expected to learn or grow. What a fundamental problem we seem to be overlooking still. We have no money to provide housing for the homeless or food for kids in our city, but we have money to make wars in far off lands where we're not wanted and have no business. Or rather, we don't have money for this adventure abroad so we're digging a huge debt we expect our kids to pay. As I've said before, as much as I respect the dedication and bravery of our troops, I wish they were here fighting the war against drugs and helping feed our kids. I'm sure many of them wish they were, too.

But no one wants to hear my politics. I was thinking one great use for the former crack house next door would be to provide a little place where a boy with 43 cents in his pocket could buy a warm meat and bean burrito and a pint of milk. We couldn't just feed them for free or we'd be overrun, but we could charge what it costs at Sam's Club or even less because I bet neighbors from far and wide would would want to help. Something like an extension of the school lunches which are too often the only real meal these kids get. Would be a great use for the largely empty NIMROD Center, but I'm sure the first thing out of the Pastor's mouth there would be "what Federal money could we get?"

Vaughn says this idea is impractical. "You'd have health department issues ..." I don't see the health department concerned with the stale garbage the store on our alley sells or the garbage they put out nightly for the rats.

When we do give our little neighbor a few cents we always whisper to him "OK, but don't tell anyone."

"I know," he replies, "cause there ain't enough for everyone."

Thursday, 11/20, 5pm: The Community Council meeting was worthwhile. Susan with the Community Law Center gave a good presentation about tactics to address nuisance properties. Nuisance is such a small word for such a huge problem in Baltimore. Some of us wanted to discuss the nitty gritty and got sidetracked. Chairwoman Joyce brought us back to point. I suspect dealing and nuisance properties are what got most of us into this type of fundamental community service.

Vaughn left as chairman of their new Communications Committee. I signed up for the Grievance Committee and for the Nuisance Committee. The latter sounds like the launching pad for the Crack House Task Force.

Major Skinner explained that the Community Relations Council was a concept he wants to reinvigorate: an alliance of community associations, small like the Madison Wilson Neighbor's Association, and large like the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation, getting them together to tackle problems common to us all and target specific issues with more clout. I was invited for our area. Even though it was raining hard, I had no excuse not to attend. The meetings are being held across the street at Eutaw Marshburn Elementary. Just about the center of the Central District.

I was surprised how recognizable we are among the area community leaders. There were some very flattering comments about our work here from people I respect. It was a bit touching and gratifying. And it felt very good to be among people who know the same problems and have been waging the same battles for much longer. Too often over the past few years, we felt alone here. It's easy to have blinders on and not realize that so many others are waging the same war, just in a different neighborhood or only a block or two away. The CRC is designed to address exactly that: We and you are not alone. And, as State's Attorney Jessamy likes to use as her theme, "working together we can make a difference."

Heard a loud argument across from the parking lot to 1715-1717 early yesterday evening. Turned out to be PGP Officers Melcher and Vogt confronting the owner and her workmen at the apartment building she owns at 1708 Eutaw Place who were dumping construction debris into the alley and parking area of Pedestal Gardens. Officer Vogt says the owner screamed at him at one point "your people burned my house," apparently as some justification for dumping on Pedestal Gardens residents. This was a reference to the July 4, 2002 fires which damaged 1706 and 1708 Eutaw. These were the fires set by vandals and used as an excuse by wealthy landlords to target all the residents of Pedestal Gardens as "terrorist conspirators." When Officer Vogt threatened to arrest her and her worker, they removed the debris. Vaughn told me I should have called the illegal dumping number and collected my $100 reward when I saw her old laundry sink being dumped. Next time I will. Trashing my neighborhood is second only to drug dealing in my list of things that truly piss me off. It's nice we have the luxury of being concerned with trash now. Before you know it, we'll have Bolton Hill standards. <g>

Wednesday, 11/19, 7am: Up early answering correspondence and planning my day. Waiting for the deluge.

On the agenda for tonight is a "Community Relations Council" meeting arranged by Major Skinner to "assist in prioritizing resources within the Central District and ... receive important information on crime trends and patterns ... and collectively expand our community efforts and continue to relentlessly confront crime from every possible angle." I've missed a few of these meetings, but at Major Skinner's urging, will make sure to be there tonight. As with the Crime Orientation Bus Tour, I am impressed with the innovation and concern for community involvement in policing.

Too often, we isolate the police department ... and they isolate themselves. One PGP officer I know talks often of the "thin blue line." I think he wishes he was on the other side of that line from regular folks like us, but I'm not sure he is. Nor do I think there should be such a line. And many of the officers I meet in the substation do not agree with this philosophy. I think it's more often invoked by officers who don't want to do their jobs or want to hide from their responsibilities and want others to join them. Good police officers do not need to protect each other from the public they serve. Nor is any good served by the notion that it's "us and them" when it comes to policing. There are two sides to community safety, not three: the good guys and the bad. It's every good citizen's job.

Unfortunately, it appears PGP boss John Copinger is not willing to reimburse the $112 for the set of used tires we helped Officer Melcher get over the weekend. I can't blame him. He just reimbursed Sergeant Kluver for a set of tires. However, I do think it would be fair to help Officer Melcher this time and warn him there wouldn't be a next.

Still waiting on the radios. The PGP, city police and me. I've heard more promises of progress lately. Considering a contract has been signed which requires the radios and promises to reimburse the security company for them, I can see no remotely plausible excuses for delay and expect no more. A year is a ridiculously long time to get such an obviously essential thing done.

Commissioner Clark has decided to create a new rank in the department. Seems like semantics more than progress to me. I know of a Lieutenant who is quite obviously a deputy Major already. But if it makes that Lieutenant feel more important or perhaps make a salary that will keep him with us, I'm all for it. I'm not sure I agree with what the Commissioner said though: "I'll always choose people over equipment." That sounds good, but equipment is really suffering with the BCPD. And lack of equipment can really strangle good policing. Too often I've loaned officers tools to help fix their own cruisers. I've seen holes in floorboards. One officer told me he/she had to scoot across the seat because the driver's door was broken. A Flex Team told me that a certain lieutenant rented a car for them to use at his own expense. A good thing for the Flex Teams who are charged with breaking drug markets: an unmarked car. Titles may be important, but properly equipping officers is even more so.

Saturday, 11/15, 4pm: Officer Melcher with the PGP found his tires slashed last night ...

slashed tired

We helped him make the run to the tire store today so he wouldn't be stuck. Same thing's happened to Sergeant Kluver, as well. The bad boys need to take revenge in some way. Often it's spray paint on the doors. Some PG tenants and more of the visiting dealers do what they can to make life difficult for the guys. It's tough with a wage of $10 an hour to buy a set of tires unexpectedly. Part of the job, I guess. Mr. Melcher's boss has indicated he'll pay for these tires to be replaced, this time. In future, I think Mr. Melcher will be careful to park off site.

Went to a ceremony to award citations from the State's Attorney last night. The Marriott at the foot of 83. She gave certificates to the officers and community supporters for doing a good job. 113 of them in the Central District alone. There weren't many more than that in the ball room. I attended to show my respect, but had to leave early. Turns out there was one for me as well. It's pretty, but a piece of paper is just that. The gesture is nice, though. And I believe in encouraging the officers who actually do the work in any way we can. If I had been asked to comment on receiving the citation, I would have said "All I've done is help support our troops. Our troops here at home." That's all the substation project has been about anyway. I'm sure our troops in Iraq would appreciate if a resident gave them a clean restroom and place to eat lunch, too.

Thursday, 11/13, 3pm: On second thought, I think we'll keep the substation open just as it is. Again last night I visited the new PGP "substation" in a  basement apartment of the 1715, across the street. Desks and paperwork all about. Workspace. No place to sit down and eat lunch except at someone's desk. Yes, there is a full kitchen, some PGP officers even cook full course meals there, keep changes of clothes, etc. but that's not the purpose of our break room. Never has been. Ours is about brief visits while on the beat. Get some fresh coffee, heat the lunch you packed from home, munch on it while writing your reports, use the restroom and get back to work. Efficient.

Calling it a substation has always been a misnomer. Not only is is it inaccurate, it's misleading. I was at a Taco Bell today. Big sign in the window calling it a Southeast District Police Substation. It's a Taco Bell. The fact an officer might have lunch and use the restroom does not make it a substation. By that definition, every McDonald's, Taco Bell, KFC and other fast food stop is a substation. And the word substation does imply staffing. Ours is a simple break room designed to accommodate officers who use it as a convenience to make themselves more efficient. And we're going to keep it that way.

Part of this rethinking comes from talking to a few city officers the past couple days. I asked them about things. The responses were what I'd hoped: "It's just convenient, comfortable and right here." "It's not a food joint, an office, a corner desk [in a drug store], just a break room ... clean and warm, private."

That a few less officers use it now because they don't want to cross the bad apples recently banned is not a good reason to take back the facility we've worked so hard to give the good, dedicated officers who serve our neighborhood. If a few prefer to hang out across the street, great. But I've seen at least a dozen different officers in this one over the past week (and they were there sometimes a couple times a shift) and as I think about it, if only one officer used it, it would be serving its purpose.

So, much as I might like to take back that nice, warm space for myself, I'm content knowing it makes things just a bit better for some men and women who do an often unpleasant job. And the fact they're here is why we're able to even try to repair this dilapidated old house. It's one thing to take on a fixer upper house, quite another to take on that and a fixer upper neighborhood. There've been some good improvements to the neighborhood lately. I'd love to combine that with some improvements to this place. It makes more sense now.

Tuesday, 10am: I'm not going to diminish the value of the guestbook entries ever again. This morning I found one from PGP Officer Vogt, recently commissioned and sworn, suggesting that neighbors surrounding Pedestal Gardens call PGP to report problems. Not just me and Pedestal Gardens residents themselves. Great idea. PGP, being here already, likely will be able to respond much faster and does not have an entire city's worth of muggings, rapes, murders and other serious crime to contend with. A broken window or a loitering prostitute do not have 911 priority to someone being attacked or worse. PGP now is all about securing the perimeter, enforcing a buffer zone and nipping the small crimes in the bud. And they have a much smaller area to do it.

PGP Officers have been walking down the Eutaw Place side of our hundred block for some time. Including shadowing drug buying suspects to it from blocks over. It is between Pedestal Garden's property here and over at 1600 Eutaw. Just yesterday, Sergeant Kluver agreed with me the place looks deserted. A few front door and living room lights would do wonders. I ran a 250 watt flood for a long time to prevent the dealers knocking out our street lamp, in addition to our vestibule light.

Yesterday at my request, Officer Tyler investigated a group of men attempting to break through a locked gate in the alley between Eutaw and Madison near the corner with Wilson. Turned out to be the new owner of Kensett House, the large apartment building on the corner, trying to let his contractors in. And frequently PGP Officers have intervened when they've found trespassers in the yards of those properties and even taken proactive steps like trying to contact those owners when they carelessly leave their garages open late at night.

The number Officer Vogt gives is to the security company's dispatch office in Essex. Unfortunately, they will have to try to raise the officers here through the extremely unreliable walkie-talkie system we've been lobbying so hard to replace with a professional system, including renting a better system until that gets done.

I have heard that SPS, the Pedestal Gardens Police employer, has paid the rental bill current, as promised. Unfortunately, the rental system is no where near adequate. It does not provide access to the city police desk downtown which Lieutenant Bailey said last week would "provide the fastest possible response." And that's what they need. We're concerned renting the radios is seen as a good excuse to waste time getting the real system in place and miring it with needless concerns about using old equipment or saving a few pennies at the expense of leaving the officers inadequately supported.

So, perhaps we can arrange a way Pedestal Gardens neighbors can directly contact the PGP Officers when they see issues in the PG community or have problems themselves. Might be as simple as providing them a special cell phone on duty. We can circulate the number to all the neighbors of PG and in that way greatly multiply their eyes and ears. This is certainly in keeping with Central District Major Skinners goal for 99% self-sufficiency in policing the PG community.

Monday, 8pm: Thanks to a very cold snap, things have been quiet again the past couple nights. I remember a couple years ago the Mayor remarking he hoped it would be a cold December to help keep down the all important murder rate statistic he used to gauge his success. Unfortunately, drug addictions and profits are too powerful motivators. They'll soon acclimate and the dealers uniforms will go from the summer to winter. Uniform being the operative word.

Interesting exchanges between Dan and Sarge on the Guestbook. Dan lives on Eutaw, just across the block toward Bolton Hill and sees a major decline in the responsiveness of policing in his area. Sarge (PGP Kluver) sees it a bit differently. I hope it doesn't become the Dan and Sarge show. Perhaps they should speak directly, I'd be happy to introduce them, or start writing their own journals, or blogs, I'd be happy show them how. But do read the recent entries. You may find yourself agreeing with one, the other, or both. They both have good points and I believe they both care about the place, something I can't say for all the neighbors.

I do like Sergeant Kluver's take on the graffiti. While I fear it may be a sign of the return of the gangs, having painted and scrubbed tons of graffiti around here, he sees it as an impotent gesture of desperation on their part. I like his take on it and will ride with it until I see more otherwise. There has been an increase in dealing and suspicious behavior on this street lately and over at the main complex. I suspect it has to do with the premature return of some bad people locked up months ago when the PGP and city police crackdown around here began. But it seems under control. It remains no where near what it was.

Went to visit Adam's new house this weekend, he of Techbalt fame. He and his roommates are still moving in. Lots of new ownership pride. It was nice and warm, which I envy. Of course he hasn't seen his first heating bill yet. Still, nice to see him doing, at least in part, what he's been promoting: young people buying into Baltimore. Not into new developments or luxury highrises, but the real Baltimore, like this area or Pigtown or the boardups of Reservoir Hill.

Saw an interesting sight last night, current 3 to 11pm shift. An officer using the new PGP offices across the street for a break. It's in a former apartment, so it has a kitchen and restroom though no table for eating lunch. One of the PGP officers told me that they were told they could use that one. He said that only the "ones who back us up have keys." The officer I saw was not one of those who've abused this substation, but it still seems odd the substation a resident supervises would not be allowed by the new sergeant when one unsupervised would be. And understand, by supervised, I mean only in that I see the squad cars coming and when they go. I can't hear their conversations and infrequently visit the substation while they're there, except to say hi to those who are friends and to suggest it's been too long to those who overstay their welcome.

I am starting to wonder if I should leave the substation business and let them all use the one across the street, though it's not nearly so hospitable thanks to supporters of this substation and our constant contributions. Not only does ours have fresh coffee, bottled water and snacks, all free, but again this winter, our facility is the only room in this house that's a constant, comfortable temperature, 24/7, as it was in the summer. That's one place we've never economized.

Saturday, 3pm: NEVER, EVER say things are better. Don't gloat. Don't ever become complacent. Don't ever allow a moment's gratification. Don't listen to your mom and dad when they say you've finished. It is never accomplishment with these game rules, merely containment to which we aspire. Then Major, now Chief Gutberlet, gave me advice along those lines once. Evidence he was right turned up this morning on the NIMROD Center building across the street ...

The Dark Side Gang

There was some big conference of finely dressed parishioners driving a million dollars worth of cars there this afternoon. I saw no one notice the graffiti as they paraded in and out in their church finery. Perhaps they consider it nothing or are content to let the dealers mark their territory again. I would have been out there sanding it off at dawn. Would do it now but I'd be afraid they'd be more concerned with my damaging their building than the dealers. I'm hugely affronted by it and will take a pressure washer, solvent or sandpaper to it in the night if I have to.

Or I could be wrong. Perhaps the meeting was on the very subject of working with us as neighbors and not just visitors against the insurgent drug terrorists. Finally. We can hope.

Readers here will note that the Dark Side Gang (they need a website) are the ones who have more than once posted "bounty posters" for the PGP on the Pedestal Gardens buildings. I do not know what the initials "NAI" stand for. Not sure I want to know. Actually don't care. All I know is no one marks this territory but those of us who live here and care for it. Not anymore at least. Not so long as I live here.

Officer Vogt has made two arrests in two days. "I didn't want to do it, but when he pulled the knife..." Officer Vogt does not want to make arrests that take him off the street unnecessarily. I understand and respect that concern. Whether City or PGP, when an officer makes an arrest, he's off the street for an hour or more. Last night for a lot more. It was a busy night across the city, including in the Pedestal Gardens Community. Early in the month. Checks have been cashed. Weather OK. All the makings.

Dealers are massing at the gates of the main complex regularly and earlier now all of a sudden. Unfortunately I note this corresponds to the change of shifts with city police last week. I hope the new sergeant here on that shift can do something about the marked difference in the effectiveness of this crew from the other. It is remarkably conspicuous. Major Skinner told me he has high hopes for Sergeant Hamlin. Of course I do too and wish her well. She has an odd mix of unmotivated coasters-toward-retirement and motivated young officers who want to make a difference. The responsibility of maintaining that motivation and inspiring more from the others must be daunting.

It's funny, I'm sure some readers will think "he's happy, there's more war to wage." I admit the fresh graffiti gives me a rush of adrenaline and changes this household from DefCon 4 back to 3 (1 being gunfire which has, thank God, never happened, though once was half a second away). But honestly, I was looking forward to new ambitions, like more serious investment in the house. I'm not changing that. Just reminded that "the price of freedom [from drug terrorists in this case] is eternal vigilance."

I wish we could apply anything near the same level of commitment here in America's cities that we have in a country where they don't want us. I'm one native who would be grateful for troops in our streets. A serious commitment that is decisive , not prolonging. We've entered a new Vietnam in Iraq. An unwinable war. And for at least two generations now, we've shown the same half-assed commitment toward winning the war here. In Vietnam, we simply gave up, tail between our legs and ran. Either we must legalize drugs to disarm the drug terrorists who plague Americans here at home every day or get serious about winning this war. The death and carnage here must stop.

In a guestbook entry a long time ago, a visitor from Sweden wished me luck in "winning this local war." Yes, I'm going to go political again, sorry to those of you who disagree: I want us to bring these troops home. Bring them home to protect Americans, where most of the natives will appreciate them. God knows, I respect and am thankful for the commitment of our troops in Iraq. Their commitment and devotion is beyond question, though not surprising considering what young American women and men have been willing to do for their country since its inception, but why do we wage wars abroad when we have had another Vietnam, the American Waterloo, going here for 30 years or more. Does conquest abroad compensate for or distract from our failures at home?

Friday, 11am: Odd, I had horrible nightmare last night about dealers. A very unpleasant story I'd conjured in my head involving a home invasion, blood and a very sad ending, at least for me. Would have made some dealers happy. Terribly real. The type of dream you wake from and wonder if it was real for a chilling moment. Don't know why I should have such a nightmare now. I never had any before here. Unless you count living through some very real scary nights.

Interesting development about the officers who abused the substation. I spoke the other day to the new sergeant for our sector 3 to 11pm shift now (they change back to the 7am to 3pm shift every four weeks on Sundays). She tells me she'd ordered all her officers not to use the substation. "There was a problem with abuse before I started and I want to make sure that doesn't happen again. The officers should be on the street, not in a break room."

I didn't disagree with that but asked her to consider how it makes the officers more efficient when used properly. Having a break room here on their beat means they don't have to drive downtown to use a refrigerator and a microwave for lunch or drive out of the sector just to use a restroom. Well, you know the spiel if you've been reading here for any time at all. Anyway, I invited her to come out and see it and even offered to let the offending parties back to use it, though I don't expect they would. Officers on other shifts are still using it a lot and when I told one about the ban, he said "That's not right. Why let two bad apples spoil it for the rest of us." So, I'm hoping she'll come out and we can let her officers use the break room again. In the meantime, now I know which shift would be best for me to get to stripping the floor and finishing that long overdue trim work. Only a couple of her officers have used the restroom here during her shift recently and I noticed they were here only for that and fast. Probably really needed to go. I wish she wouldn't begrudge them that convenience.

Thursday, 11am: I'm in such a great mood.  The reality of the progress around here is starting to penetrate. Oddly just as several of the bad boys Sergeant Kluver and the PGP had locked up are getting out. I suppose I don't believe they will (can) retake the block. I believe it's ours now. And no drug dealer's nostalgia will take it back to what it was. Funny, I'm prepared to go back to packing a .38 in my bathrobe if I have to, but I don't believe we'll be back to that level of fear ever again here.

If we persevere.

A well known family of drug dealers here is back. The matriarch of the family was the one who accused Officer Tyler of being a turncoat, working for "the man" against his race. Officer Tyler is black, or African-American if you prefer. (I  don't mind be called white, so I don't know the PC) Funny, Ms. Hayes, no one I respect thinks your boys respect the race by slinging. You may think or pretend it's the only way, but I see too many examples of young, African American men who have chosen a different path both in law enforcement and in the private sector. Paths a good mother might have encouraged. There are other directions for the life of a young African American man here. Proud, amazing lives. And shame on you that your children never saw that and now spar with police officers "for a living."

The meeting yesterday went very well. My only ambition for it was the exchange of business cards and it was much better than that. The School Police Chief came, MICA's people, two reps from the State's Attorney, all the PGP Officers in full uniform. It was a community in action. In action. Something not seen here in any time long remembered. 1700 Madison has been a Drug Zone for years. And now it's trying to live up to its "Drug Free Zone" signs. And we're winning.

Wednesday, 11am: It's a bit chilling to hear "just go back inside before anyone gets hurt" in a booming voice and see police officers looking up at the roof. That's what I woke to this morning. Officers were trying to talk a young man off the roof of 1700 Madison. They were attempting to make an arrest under a warrant. I don't know whether this was for the domestic abuse cases there or the breakins of the church downstairs. When they knocked on his door, he jumped out the window to the lower roof facing the alley. He said "you just gonna mess me up" to one of the officers who replied "not unless you fight me." He found he had no where to go and officers were on all sides so he smartly decided jumping wouldn't help. He climbed back up to the window and an officer had to grab him by the seat of the pants to help him clamber in.

That's the most excitement we've had around here in a while.

Met a neighbor yesterday. Tracy lives with her husband in the 2000 block of Madison. She had recently found the website. We had a nice chat. Discussed the progress on the block and the general improvement in the area. She is a producer for NPR and is doing a story on vacant houses. Sure are a lot of them around here. Such good stock, too. Such a waste. I wish there was a way to stop people from "land banking." Too often owners let the property sit vacant, frequently creating problems, as with 1426 Madison, waiting for others to fix a neighborhood so they can cash in.

Today is the multi agency meeting for law enforcement and safety officers of this area. Our little neighbor's association is helping set it up with the property managers of Pedestal Gardens and providing lunch. We've got the PGP, city police, MICA, Housing and School officers attending along with a representative of the State's Attorney. I hope this will be the start of regular meetings and that progress will be made on improving communications and coordination between them. The owner of the security company that employs the PGP will be there, too. I'm praying he will have news about the long awaited radio system for the PGP and the link that'll have to the city officers. Please keep your fingers crossed for that.

Sunday, 11/2, Noon: No entry in a week. Unusual. No emails or calls this time, worried about us. In an odd way, I rather miss that. I'm sure readers are aware things are much better here and figure I have nothing to report. No news is good news. In this case, it is. Odd though. Readership is up.

PGP Sergeant Kluver posted a long guestbook entry last week. It was a glowing, hopeful endorsement of his employer, SPS and IRM. He'd had gall bladder surgery the day before. I accused him of being under the influence of pain killers still. <g>  My immediate thought was "wishful thinking." I am still skeptical.

But a bit more hopeful today. A couple weeks ago, John Copinger, owner of SPS, emailed offering to pay for the rented radios. I forwarded him the bills. Yesterday we received a check. I'll call Teltronic on Monday to verify they've gotten one as well. Still. A check. A promise followed by real action. Now, if he can just follow through on getting the long, long overdue radios.

I hope he'll make it to the meeting later this week. The law enforcement agencies of the neighborhood are going to meet, including city police, PGP, MICA, school police and representatives of the States Attorney's office. The purpose is to encourage networking and cooperation. Lt. Bailey will be there to work out protocols for backing up the PGP officers. I'd hoped to have the radios in place before this meeting, but perhaps Mr. Copinger will have news of real progress there. Would be a good time to tell us when the equipment will be arriving. I think he'll be impressed how much the area police agencies want to support and work with the PGP. Most of his employees are bank, parking lot and pizza parlor guards. I know he still doesn't understand that these employees are community police officers.

On that note, more PGP officers are getting their special commissions. One just arrived. Another next week we hope. The bad boys don't know which ones have them or which ones are getting them and I'm not going to enlighten the ones who might read here. Suffice to say, almost all of them will be commissioned by Commissioner Clark soon.

There are some other guestbook entries of interest, too, about my response to the lazy officers. Pro and con. It was definitely a tough call and I see merit to both arguments.

Dan from the 1700 block of Eutaw Place continues to report broken windows and stolen cars and ignored 911 calls to report prostitutes on his street. He's convinced it's faulty policing. I just think it's more crime and a block where there's so little light and too few people home. The tiny church on the corner of Wilson and Madison here, at 1700, has been broken into yet again. More of their sound equipment was stolen. Seems an inside job. Another tenant in the building of a very absentee landlord. Same house where two different couples continually have domestic fights, including beatings and a not so serious, but still bloody stabbing. Seems to me that the relationship should be over after your girlfriend has stabbed you in the arm with a steak knife.

A friend in Reservoir Hill, who's doing a complete gut out and remodel of a long boarded house there, had his tools and ladders stolen while he was away recently. He's trying to figure out ways to secure the property better. My answer here was to move in. Seemed the only thing I could do. Course, I'm still camping by some standards, but I don't mind. And of course three dogs are a great deterrent.

Still, the ever present dealers, the constant chant "greens out, get your greens, greens here," the frequent fights and police chases are no longer ... here. Now we just seem to have city crime. Odd to find myself grateful for having only that. And perhaps this upcoming meeting, and the cooperation it should facilitate, will help work on these crimes as well. Before you know it, I'll only have litter and noisy parties to complain about. Such luxury. <g>

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