Journal Entries of February, 2004
click here for archive index of previous entries
Friday, February 27: Yesterday's School Improvement Team meeting went well. It was much larger than usual. Councilman Mitchell gave a good talk and reviewed how the schools were removed from city administration as well as the fact that the state has never complied with court orders for additional funding in recent years. Something I did not know. There were several people from the school district and one speaker from the Teacher's Union. She seemed to be preaching to the choir. I don't think anyone there wants the teachers laid off or paid less.
There will be a bus Monday to Annapolis, leaving from the school at 4pm. Another demonstration in favor of Baltimore City Schools. Does seem the state considers Baltimore a burden and this school fiasco just another example why. This Governor was elected by those who long ago abandoned the city. Those content to use it for work or play, but who wouldn't want to live here and have disdain for most who do. They consider us a vast sink hole. I'm still waiting for the Governor to devise a plan to bulldoze most of the city and hand it to Ryland Homes to be developed as a planned community.
The plan announced today in the Sun sounds viable. Still, a loan does not fix problems. Sometimes they create more. Loans have to be paid back. I do agree with the Governor that an oversight group needs to be set up. Of course, that's what a School Board is supposed to be, just hasn't worked out that way with this board.
The mayor emailed today ...
"Bryan - we've hammered out a tentative agreement so that the schools can get some funding to see them through the current crisis. I'm doing all I can to make sure that our students' test score - which have been steadily improving - continue to move in that direction - and that they are NOT impacted by any administrative decisions."
Before the program, a group of first graders sang us a great little song, accompanied on a painfully out of tune piano by their music teacher. The kids were a bit off key, too, but no one noticed. You did notice the smiles. It was a good reminder of who this school crisis affects.
After the speakers and audience left, the SIT members came up with the money to pay for insurance to allow 11 violin students to take their instruments home. I'm still concerned about what happens when one of the kids has his or her violin stolen, but $100 to let kids practice at home is money well spent. And not something we can expect the school to pay for a this point. We're now working on finding a good piano tuner.
The Pedestal Gardens dumpster is empty! And no trash in the parking lot or ally. Always a nice surprise to see. Apparently someone felt an extra emptying wouldn't hurt after all.
Dealing has been light. Officer Brown has been on patrol conspicuously, especially near school closing time. That's always good to see. Some of the PGP officers should remember that conspicuous, frequent patrols are the best work they can do. Deterrence and prevention are more productive than arrests.
Wednesday, February 25, 2pm: Just watched someone who looked like the janitor for the Payne Church empty a trash can into the Pedestal Gardens dumpster. At least I think it was him. He came out of the church, emptied it into the dumpster and then went into the NIMROD building. Seems the church is not above using someone else's dumpster illegally, like so many of our other neighbors. Shame. They have their own for their church and for the NIMROD building too.
The PG dumpster was emptied this morning, 3:30am (crash, bang, boom, bang crash, bang! Thanks, PG and Waste Management Company for waking us all up yet again), but it is already getting full, in less than a day. About 8:30 this morning, the maintenance guy for PG was out there cleaning up the debris that had overflowed and was not picked up by the automatic trash truck. But through the morning a contractor from one of the apartment houses on Eutaw threw his debris in. He actually ran back to the house as I watched, knowing full well he was doing wrong. Officers and I had warned him. Added to what the church has done and the legitimate trash from the residents, it's almost full again, less than twelve hours later. It will be overflowing yet again tomorrow.
To be fair, for some reason, there is no signage on or around the dumpster telling people it is for the residents of Pedestal Gardens only. Being out there loose in a vacant lot, as prominent as can be, it does invite abuse. I wouldn't mind if Pedestal Gardens was doing a community service, acting as a public trash can for the block. If so, I'll be happy to use it myself. Far more convenient to me. But PG refuses to keep up with it and so we end up with trash and debris and more rats everywhere. I do care about that. Just yesterday I requested they dump it immediately before it was overfull again. The Site Manager at Pedestal Gardens replied "I APPRECIATE THE THOUGHT, HOWEVER, WE HAVE SPECIFIED TRASH DUMP DAYS." My reply: "UNACCEPTABLE."
I don't know why PG can't put up signage (i.e. "For residents only. Illegal dumping will be prosecuted!") and other steps try to discourage this dumping, like putting it closer to their building and enclosing it from view. We stopped the dumping in our vacant lot next door. We continue to take our construction debris to the city transfer station or to the dump, as required, and to put out our garbage on the morning of regular city trash pickup days. Seems the minimal requirement of being a good neighbor. Instead, it seems apartment house owners on Eutaw and the corner of this very street and the big church think it's OK to just dump on Pedestal Gardens and let them take care of it. I suppose if Pedestal Gardens and so many of my other neighbors don't care, I shouldn't either. And just as soon as I truly agree with that, I will be moving out of the city.
We were after Pedestal Gardens on this issue two years ago, but were more distracted then by the free reign the drug dealers had through their property. That's much, much better, as we all know, thanks to PGP and more effective BCPD work. It has helped to have an apartment there now dedicated to the PGP officers. Bad guys don't know whether the cartoons on the TV in there mean the officers are watching TV or on patrol. They don't know if they'll come out or come back at any time. That's great. Now's the time to clean up the rest of the act.
Dumping just shows everyone and reinforces the attitude no one cares if we live in filth and rats, including us. What does that say to the bad guys?
Vaughn says my criticism here earlier of a certain BCPD shift is too harsh. He could be right. He is more often than I give him credit. And I could be wrong. Some think I don't know that. I can say my comments were rather subdued compared to how I really feel about certain persons. I don't agree that we shouldn't require excellence, proactive work from all our officers. We owe that to most who are proud and wonderfully dedicated hard workers. Work I've seen them do here with my own eyes. I suppose my criticism of a few is based on my indignation they'd do this to their colleagues and superiors for whom I have the utmost respect and appreciation.
This website has never been about PR for anyone or organization, though some have thought that. It's my journal of observations and opinions. Not the newspaper or a propaganda piece. People are free to read it, to correct me when they have information I may not have or to not read it at all. This journal is full of praise for many, even those criticized the day before. It has many corrections where I've learned my assumptions were wrong. I can only base my opinions on what I see and believe. Without forming an opinion, how is one supposed to formulate action? Without action, we don't get progress.
Remember the School Improvement Team meeting at Eutaw Marshburn Elementary tomorrow. We prepared this flyer to post at Pedestal Gardens where many Eutaw parents live. The Site Manager authorized the PGP to put them up during their rounds. I hope they did and we see many from the neighborhood. I know there are those who want to help, but don't know how. Showing up at this meeting is a good start.
Tuesday, February 24, 3pm: There is a new guestbook entry today that all readers here should see. Please read it and then my email reply, reprinted here ...
An exceptionally informative and excellent response. Thank you. I will refer to it in my next entry.
My experiences with the church have not been good. My first was with [a church official] when she told me that our ownership of the house and vacant lot next door here at 1706-08 was "not in keeping with the character of the community." I took that as a racist comment and told her so. She did not try to correct that inference. That was three years ago. We have since cleaned out and fenced off what was a public garbage dump at 1706 and continue to toil away at rehabbing what was a abandoned crack house here at 1708.
My only other experience with Payne has been with Rev Thomas when we met with HUD late in '02 to try to find a way to get the kids of Pedestal Gardens off the street at 1am, perhaps utilizing some of the vacant NIMROD center space. His immediate reply was "what federal money could we get" not what I expected from a church, which was "of course we can donate some of our vacant space for this if other agencies/associations can help." The representative from HUD and I were very disappointed.
I agree not having it a bombed out shell is far preferable. But I am severely disappointed that so much of what was promised has never materialized. From a selfish point of view, the much heralded NIMROD building was part of the reason I felt the neighborhood was on the upswing and was willing to gamble on it by living here.
I did not see any effort on the part of the church to help us close down the now boarded, but once thriving crack house at 1704 or in fact any action against the dealers who used to loiter directly in front of NIMROD, selling crack under your windows to parents while school was letting out. I do not credit your church with any effort to thwart the drug market here. All I've seen is a live and let live attitude with the dealers, including simply ignoring blatant dealing around church goers cars on Sundays. This attitude is symbolized by the fact the church doesn't even care that the side of it's once pristine building has sported the logo of a notorious drug gang which operates in this neighborhood for more than 8 months. (The Dark Side Gang) We immediately removed the graffiti on this house and in the vacant lot, now yard next door and do not tolerate it on our property. This is our property, not theirs, as we have told the dealers directly.
I am not about church bashing. I am all about encouraging my neighbors to be responsible neighbors, including Pedestal Gardens, which we are now pressuring to take care of the dump they allow between NIMROD and the PG building so often. In fact, I would love to see Payne join us in working to make that space a picnic park for PG residents, a nice looking space rather than the eyesore it is now.
But no one has ever communicated with us from the church like you. No one. In fact, my brother was once cornered in the church parking lot by one of your parishioners who said we were right, that the church does not do enough to help this very block where it lives.
You're my neighbor, too, even if you don't live here. Wanna work together on these issues?
In fact, I'm trying to put together a nonprofit printing/graphics operation, which is my long time profession, to provide those services to nonprofits, including churches, at the best possible prices. A program including training in desktop publishing for interns, whom I hope we can recruit from our neighbors in need of OTJ training. Such an operation would eventually be able to pay rent, but would need incubation. I have not had the impression the church would be interested in working with me, in part because we are white. A sad impression. One I would be overjoyed to see changed.
So, perhaps you can be the catalyst for a change of attitudes on both sides. In fact, let's do away with sides. Please let me know what you think the next step should be.
1708 Madison Avenue
Would be wonderful to feel the Payne Church was an involved neighbor on this block. I don't know about their work in Africa. It does not affect this block. Like the war in Iraq, I like to see charity and social work begin at home. I'm sure the church has some wonderful programs. It has some very dedicated public servants among its members. As I've said to so many, though, I can only speak/write about what I see out my window, what we live with here, nothing else. Perhaps this neighbor can be the liaison that changes what we've often felt was rejection of us by the biggest property owner on the block.
Thursday, February 26, at 1:30 in the school library, the School Improvement Team is having its monthly meeting. This one promises to be important, interesting. Keiffer Mitchell, our councilman, will be speaking as well as authorities on the crisis and how it's affecting our school. All parents and others interested in helping the school, learning about what's going on and helping should attend if they can. I'll be there and will do my best to report about it here.
I am happy to see the Mayor and Governor working together today. I agree with the Governor, (that's got to be a first <g>) that the school system needs to be seized, my word, and forced to change. I agree that the school board must be changed, too. After all, it allowed this fiasco to happen. I used to feel we needed the National Guard to occupy this neighborhood to rout the drug terrorists. I still think that's true in some Baltimore neighborhoods, though things have improved right here. Sometimes one needs to work around people and systems that simply don't work. Try new approaches, not throw good money and energy into the status quo, hoping it will correct itself magically.
Speaking of the school, it does my heart good to see the flag out every morning and taken in every afternoon school is in session now. We haven't been needed. The staff members found a way to do it. That's makes seeing that flag there even more gratifying.
Update: I'm not sure if anyone in power at the school district reads here, but I vote that Gladney be disqualified from future contracts with our school district. Read today's Sun article here. The District needs to take responsible action obviously and that includes dealing with only with qualified vendors and those who do not abandon it during a crisis. I realize he has payroll and expenses to cover, but there are factor companies out there who would buy the receivables. Like a certain security vendor here, when you know you're going to get paid, even if delayed, you don't endanger kids to help your own cash flow/profit line. Receivables are part of doing business.
Monday, February 23, noon: Just about the first morning in a couple weeks I've noticed no strutting packs of drug thugs. No screaming obscenities. Just people getting up and out to work, the kids going to school. Normal life.
I know one reason why: the more effective of the two Sector 3 day shifts just rotated back to mornings yesterday. I've seen conspicuous patrols this morning I haven't seen in weeks. Of course, this will leave us with the less proactive shift in the evenings for the next four weeks, but at least around here, we have the PGP on during those hours. And the graveyard shift around here is always on top of things. Their sergeant is hard working, proactive and supervises some exceptional officers.
The now afternoon Sector 3 shift really needs a shakeup. I don't think it's any coincidence that's the shift with the two lazy officers we kicked out of the substation. I had high hopes their new sergeant would make a difference, but I haven't seen it yet, she's new. I suspect more hands on supervision here is needed and some staff reassignments. There are good, young officers on that shift I know are being negatively influenced by more senior colleagues "coasting to retirement," as one experienced officer has called them. And it makes it harder on these good officers to have to do the work of these slackers too. They're a small team in an area with some very rough blocks. Every one of them needs to be on the ball. This ain't Guilford.
The Pedestal Gardens dump is slightly better this morning. The garbage company picked up the container this morning. Then the PG maintenance crew put a lot of the huge overflow into it. The furniture and bigger debris remains piled outside. Now the container, being instantly 2/3rds full, will be overflowing again in a day. A cycle Pedestal Gardens management seems content with. Some of the residents are no doubt resigned to it. We are not.
Ken, a long time substation supporter, good neighbor and architect, is going to help a few of us put together a plan for that lot. Something to contain the dump and make the lot an asset, not an eyesore. Just as we did when we took over the vacant lot next door which had been a wide open dump and drug gallery for years. Then the work will be persuading the powers that be to do the right thing. This time we will not be so patient as we have with the radios. <g>
CD Major Skinner has been in touch with me about the PGP/BCPD radio link. Getting it implemented as we had hoped has not been a smooth process as readers here well know. The Major is very concerned about about liabilities and precedents, and I have no doubt that's as it should be, but says progress is being made. I had thought we'd worked out these issues last spring when calls and correspondence were going on between the Commissioner, Council President, then CD Major and the players here. We came to what seemed a good compromise. But then, waiting on the powers that be here to act took seven months. People and circumstances changed in that time.
In the meantime, the radios are working well between PGP officers and with their dispatcher at the PGP employer company in Essex. So far, I hear reports the staff there are on the ball and fast to get backup to their officers now, as in the case Friday night when Officers Vogt and Brown had to subdue a suspect and deal with less than supportive residents kicking the officers and trying to help the suspect get away. That's when Officer Vogt hurt his back. (He's better and returned to duty last night.) He must have asked for a Signal 13 because he got a swift and effective backup from city officers. This according to my neighbor who lives in that building and reads the website. At least he wasn't in a radio hole when this occurred, as so often happened with the old system provided by SPS.
Doesn't seem very promising that a Crime Watch program here could be effective if PG residents are so anti police. But over there two crack houses flourish right across the street, as 1704 did here. The dealers have a headquarters on top of their prime market. Perhaps those good residents over at the courtyard (at McMechen & Eutaw) are intimidated by the dealers always hovering around, and do not want to be mistaken for snitches. If we can show them some progress, perhaps that attitude can change as I've seen here. Major Skinner assures me he is targeting this market and I know Flex and OCD raids have been very effective knocking out a couple more crack houses around here in recent months.
I did not make it to Clayton's court appearance this morning. Would not have been able to sit long in court. I suspect it had to with a fish dinner I should not have had last night. Anyway, I'm hoping to hear from Clayton and Tanya and any readers who did make it. Got my fingers crossed that it went well. Hopefully, the state just dismissed the charges.
Update 3pm: Tanya informs me the matter was postponed again, to March 16, due to a new prosecutor being assigned. He hasn't seen their tapes of the hell the neighbors put them through. I think when he does, he will not feel sympathetic to juvenile delinquents, who should not have been where they were, terrorizing a family whose dog got defensive.
Just saw a city cruiser patrol through the school area. Good to see. It's closing time, when dealers often use the foot and car traffic of the school closing as a cover for their activity.
Sunday, February 22, 1pm: Another Sunday and street parking is as bad as Bolton Hill. But that doesn't really bother me. I'm more disturbed by the small roving packs of drug thugs I've seen late this morning. Two of the PGP officers have noticed more activity already underway when they come on and into the early afternoon. 1421 Madison Avenue, across from their main courtyard, continues to be the focal point of dealing on the other side of the school, as well as what must be a stash house on Wilson and Druid Hill, two blocks over. That's where our packs seem to commute.
There have been roving gangs of younger thugs in Bolton Hill recently, too, as reported on the Bolton Hill Bulletin Board recently (2/18). They seem to be more about stealing from cars, casing homes for burglary and harassing residents who might interfere. As always, everyone must keep their eyes open, for their own and neighbor's sake, and not to be afraid to call 911 right away. Complaining without reporting is useless. Don't assume others have called. They may feel the same.
There's a nice guestbook entry from Mike about taking a proactive role in your own corner of Baltimore. We all have to or we all pay the price.
PGP Officer Vogt made a guestbook entry recently about the coming warm weather. He had to take yesterday off, having hurt his back dealing with some troublemakers at 325 McMechen the night before. He encourages residents to be watchful, to report the dealing. I agree with him we've got to get into aggressive, proactive mode now. We've already seen big signs that the fight on this block is far from over. It just slowed down, at least outside, in the frigid weather.
On March 10, the Pedestal Gardens Tenant's meeting is going to include Kevin Cleary of the Mayor's Office. He's the coordinator for the revived Crime Watch program. We're going to join our Pedestal Gardens neighbors in setting it up here, including signs and more important, getting people signed up for block watch numbers. This program gives you a number you can use when reporting crime, rather than using your own name and address. When this number is entered, the system removes your personal information from the report the patrol officers get. This keeps them from visiting you and accidentally (or otherwise) tipping off the suspects who reported them. Your personal information is only available to senior officers downtown to help prevent people abusing the system. Sometimes the dealers will make fake calls to distract police. I suspect they also set fires in derelict row homes for the same reasons.
The protection of your identity is essential to get us all to report suspicious or in our case usually quite blatant dealing and other crime, even just dumping. After the Dawson Massacre, calls to report dealing plummeted. No one's surprised at that. Around here, too many assume no one will call, regardless of what they're doing.
The Pedestal Gardens dump is in full swing, as it is more often than not ...
The new furniture got there a few days ago. Then some construction debris (likely from the renovations to neighboring houses) but mostly simple tenant trash this time. Obviously what's being done there is not enough. In warmer weather it's swarmed with rats at night and sea gulls by day. It's real hard to persuade my neighbors to take care of their trash when they can point to this heap and say "why bother?" If you can't persuade a federally subsidized multi million dollar complex to do better, what can you expect of its neighbors? From seeing it daily (this is the view from my front windows) we have some practical suggestions I know would result in reducing this problem, but they would require effort and some small investment. Our input is not so much appreciated there unless it's to report the good work, the progress, as I have on numerous occasions. Then, the validity of our observations and comments is never questioned. Go figure. <g>
Just a reminder: tomorrow is Clayton William's court date.
Speaking of court, I've already been subpoenaed by the state as a witness to the arrest of the suspected dealer the other morning. And they say the wheels of justice are slow. Oh, what fun. I get to sit in court like the officers and wait, likely for a continuation until another morning spent in court. And I don't even get paid for it. Oh wait. I do. I help the officers I demand do their jobs, do their jobs. If I help them, my neighborhood's safer. That's pretty good pay.
Friday, February 20, Noon: Foxtrot visited earlier than usual today. Recently, our roving drug thug boys have become quite vocal. Racial slurs, epithets, foul language at full volume, while walking up and down the street. It seems another new tactic to intimidate as well as advertise they're here with product to sell. Been here earlier lately when the PGP officers are not on or there's only one on duty. They can't be everywhere at once on the sprawling Pedestal Gardens grounds. Or the lone PGP officer might be a bit leery of these guys. They do sound scary. Major Skinner emailed I would see some improvements in the near future. Perhaps Foxtrot is part of that. I know the helicopter really sends the dealers running.
Clayton Williams' trial is scheduled for Monday, February 23rd, 9am in Room 540 of Courthouse East, 111 North Calvert Street. Readers will recall the family being harassed by juvenile delinquents to the point where an incident occurred with the family dog getting involved to defend the family. Click here for details from the June 13, 2003 entry. I've seen the tape of what was going on and heard the details of the dog incident. As a dog owner myself, I can tell you I sympathize with the innocent family and dog. I'm sure Tanya and Clayton would appreciate anyone willing to go to court with them as I did some months back. Like with Clarence Weston's trial, moral support is important. Of course, in Clarence's case, 20 neighbors attended to make clear their disapproval of his conduct. I will report here what happens. With any luck the charges will simply be dismissed.
Tanya wrote an upbeat email the other day ...
Hey ,On a happier note! My children are able to play outside today for the first time since this all started. Since the family across the street is gone we don't have to worry about being hit with bottles.Tanya :)
Sometimes we can be happy about the simplest of things. Like being able to play outside without getting hit by bottles or hearing racial slurs at 110 decibels in the middle of the day.
John of Violetville has forwarded this article about the great progress St. Louis has made at lowering its homicide rate. It really can be done. I hope our police will read it, too.
I've heard lots of sirens, both fire and police for the past hour. Can't see anything from here. Perhaps that's part of Foxtrot's work this morning. No doubt the news will have a report about something big in this area.
Later: Indeed, it was a fire just across McCulloh from us that caused so much commotion. A derelict row house on the 500 block of Wilson.
Tuesday, February 17, 1pm: Early this morning, about 5:20am, I awoke to loud yelling in the alley, right behind the substation. When I got to the window, PGP Sergeant Kluver had pursued a man up the alley and he and a city officer had him in custody. The officers were looking for something they thought they'd seen him toss. At one point the city officer even scaled our fence and was looking around in the yard next to the substation with his flashlight. That's when my sleepy dog got interested, staring at him intently from the window, growling very quietly. He's aware of most everything that happens near the house, but senses when I'm not nervous and usually just stays at alert until I go back to bed. Big dog and I have a lot of experience checking out noises in the night together. Though we usually sleep through complete nights now without any drama.
I overheard parts of the conversation. Seems the suspect was loitering and was asked to talk by the officer on patrol and instead bolted. I don't think anything was found on him, but as one officer said "you're still going to spend the night at Central Booking." Sure seems reasonable to ask why someone was loitering at 5am. Around here we all know what he was likely doing. Sergeant Kluver pointed to the substation sign at one point, as the suspect sat on the alley next to the police car and asked something to the effect "do you see that sign, do you think this is a good place to be selling?"
While walking the dogs this morning, I looked around the yard and saw nothing either. It's a big yard, though. Not long back a few extra vials in the yard would not have been noticed. There were so many. Would find a new crop of them each morning, mostly empty after use or jettisoned during chases. All the pretty, glistening vials with their rainbow of tops. I don't miss 'em.
Update, 5:45pm: Sergeant Kluver advises me the officers did find the contraband on our property and the suspect was booked for it. Another example of the very effective partnership between the city police and our local PGP officers.
Seems Officer Brown has already found a new home, in Bolton Hill, just a few blocks away. Mr. Brown makes a modest living, not nearly what he's worth to our community and so does not have a car. God knows, cars are a huge expense for a working man. But he won't need one now. An affordable little apartment, just what he wanted, and he's jazzed he'll be living in Bolton Hill. The new landlord has even offered him a small break on the rent. Officer Brown says when he and his PGP colleague went to look at the apartment, the residents seemed concerned something had happened. I'm sure they'll be happy to have him as a neighbor. No doubt his presence will help ensure it's a quieter place than it would be without him. He's supposed to be getting the lease today. I hope it works out. Thanks to those several readers who emailed with leads.
Thanks, too, to Ryan and Jenn, two Friends of the Substation, for the bottled waters and hot chocolates.
Sunday, February 15, noon: A beautiful, chilly day and the faithful have all converged on our block as they do each Sunday to attend Payne Memorial. As always, they're oblivious to their neighbors. Now they don't notice the conspicuous absence of dealers and prostitutes where they used to walk past them by the dozens. Nor do they notice or appreciate the PGP officer keeping an eye out for them as they sashay to and from their expensive SUVs in their Sunday finery.
Someone was moving into the NIMROD Center yesterday. Most activity I've seen there in months. Couple big trucks. I wonder if it's another private, for profit, rent paying tenant or one of the many community service uses touted when the huge grants from the Fed were solicited. The same uses that have never materialized, except a small Head Start program, which I applaud, and note brings in money for this already wealthy church. Still, from my window, I see at least two floors vacant. What a waste.
While we slept, another US soldier died in Iraq. This one from an accident apparently, though that doesn't diminish his or her loss in service a bit. We're now at 21 confirmed suicides amongst our soldiers over there, too, not counting possible suicides after soldiers have returned or those whose deaths are under investigation still. The stress must be huge. Particularly when it must be hard to maintain the necessary mindset to follow orders without question, while more than serious questions about the wisdom of this war find no honorable answers. The human price we're paying in the dead and injured, not just our own, is too huge.
While I have no doubt that soon, closer to election time, certain secret operatives will find (read fabricate) those elusive weapons of mass destruction, certainly "credible evidence" of them, I still marvel at the many smoking guns in Baltimore that remain ignored. How much more worthy it would be had the nation taken a serious stance on reclaiming our own inner cities, pursuing our own "local war" as a Swede wrote in the guestbook many months back. Lead by example, not force. I'd far prefer we saddle our kids with this huge debt for their cause than for securing oil for speeding commuters or tax cuts for the wealthy.
I'm glad the Abel Foundation is stepping up in partnership with the city to help bail out the schools for the rest of the year. Still, we must have serious answers about how this happened and make sure it never happens again. There's another very good column about the problem by Dan Rodricks in the Sun this morning.
Some readers have asked me why I "digress" to writing about the schools and "Operation Iraqi Freedom." They think I've run out of dealers and other criminals or crack houses to tilt at here and need something to bitch about. That could be partly true. But I sure do see the connection between bad, underfunded schools and the crime that still plagues vast areas of our city, including across the street from here. And I sure do see 100 billion spent abroad, and 540 Americans killed where we have no business, as pertinent to a city where we can't pay teachers or drive out the insurgent drug terrorist gangs that make the huge West and East sides of this city unlivable to anyone who can afford to get out.
There are no dealers out my window today. No interesting scenes of police chases, naked cracked out neighbors running down the middle of the street, no loitering dealers chanting their brand names. We're even making some progress on the trash. (I note a new Rat Rubout sign to remind the rats someone's complained about them.) But that doesn't mean our local war is over. It means we've made progress. And I've seen too often when we, neighbors, officers, bureaucrats alike, begin to become complacent, the progress is lost instantly. I am so looking forward to the day when I can complain here about what renovations my neighbors do to their homes, the type of fence they build, dog poop, browser popups and parking. When these are my only complaints, we'll have achieved nirvana in my book. Or at least Bolton Hill.
Donations of supplies to the substation are way down. Probably because of my loud mouth, but I'm not going to apologize for it. I'm proud of what that loud mouth has done to help create the near pastoral scene out my window today. We'll just continue paying for the stuff out of our own pockets, with the help of a dedicated few substation friends, so long as the officers continue to use the place. We might put out a can for quarters to cover Rice Krispy Treats, though. Still, that smacks too much of rattling a can on the corner asking for spare change, especially from officers who make less than half what I would want to do their job.
Heard a rumor yesterday that Commissioner Clark and the Mayor are not happy with one another right now. I hope that's not true. In any organization, gossip like that abounds. And all the change the Commissioner has wrought is bound to make waves. But there certainly was big room for improvement in the Baltimore Police force after Norris. It's been since Clark's come on duty this block has become livable. Not a coincidence, I'm sure.
Still no official word on those damned radios. So frustrating to be kept out of the loop when we supposedly have succeeded. I can't help but think if certain people had not dragged their feet for seven months, we'd not be seeing jury rigging now where once we had a seemingly fool proof plan to secure the safety of our PGP officers.
One of those PGP Officers, Mr. Brown, is looking for a small apartment nearby. I thought I might have found one, but it's been rented. If you have a small apartment available near here, please let me know right away. I can think of no better tenant. Mr. Brown is quiet, mature, affable and has always been a trooper here. Feared by dealers and respected by neighbors. How's that for a recommendation? If I had a suitable space for him, I'd give him a big break on the rent just for the peace of mind of having him as a roommate or neighbor.
Saturday, February 14, 7pm: I was disappointed that the city teachers did not accept the Mayor's loan plan. Don't blame them at all for not accepting it, but I don't see the city as responsible. It has not had control of the school district since 1997. Our city contribution to the schools has been squandered in this mysterious money pit where millions are spent and little gets to teachers and students.
Read a quote in the Sun ...
Jacquelyn Johnson, a third-grade teacher at Dickey Hill Elementary, said more can be done. She was one of many teachers who said they were tired of paying for basic classroom supplies out of their own pockets.
"They can spend millions of dollars on the Hippodrome [theater], and there seems to be money for keeping elephants in the zoo, but we don't have money for paper and pencils," Johnson said.
Much as I applaud the restoration of the Hippodrome and the redevelopment of the Westside downtown, it's sad we can't raise and manage money for our children as well. Their education, or lack thereof, will have a lot bigger impact on the future of this city than any redevelopment or theater.
I spoke to Craig Wolfe, an assistant US Attorney a couple days ago. Told me several people have called to suggest a criminal investigation. He assured me that the US Attorney's office would encourage the appropriate law enforcement agencies to investigate, including the FBI. Heard the US Attorney on the radio this morning asking for anyone with information to contact his office. I'm glad to see him getting involved. Not amused to hear the School Board having closed sessions today. Seem to be trying to protect themselves from investigation and liability. Perhaps it's time for a class action suit by all parents with children in Baltimore Schools, to force the truth out, perhaps having the court take over the administration of the district until it is straightened out.
The much hyped multi million dollar data processing system has often been cited as one of the sink holes into which we've poured money with no results. I understand it's still not operational. I've been told it's Oracle based. Apparently the contractor putting it in place has not been up to the task. I certainly don't understand ridiculous sums paid to consultants for no good reason. I've written its CEO, Larry Ellson, a billionaire, asking him to step up to see this system is made operational. I'm sure he could afford to send some experts in to get this done for the good of the children and the reputation of Oracle. Email me if you'd like his address, too.
Vice Principal Jackson of our school went to the Major's Community Council meeting last Wednesday. She had a chance to speak with Major Skinner about securing the school and playgrounds there at night so the dealers don't use it. The Major emailed me he'd like to help in any way he can. I've asked him to consult his officers and help us determine the best way to do it. Perhaps keys for the officers so they don't have to scale the gate running after suspects. We also may want to accommodate some early evening use of the playground as well. I also have a call or two in to the Fire Department to determine their concerns. Also looking into funding sources for this very practical improvement. Obviously the schools can't afford it. It will get done, one way or the other. Like the flag, this is a no brainer ... and not that costly.
(our official signs are a bit different)
The Mayor has emailed me that he's contacted Stan Cruse in the city sign shop about our block getting a Neighborhood Watch Sign. The gentleman we'd been referred to has been out on leave for some time and no signs were getting out. We want to see this signage up. Anything that keeps the dealers and prostitutes wondering is good. Seems fair to put up a neighborhood watch sign, too, when we will shortly have surveillance cameras again.
Some noticeable dealing again this morning on the block. Good weather is part of it of course, but as I've written before, the dealers and customers are too aware of the security team's hours. I've suggested before those hours be shifted around at times to keep the dealers guessing, nervous. And as they do with the city police, they station lookouts who announce the approach of officers with the "whoo hoo, whoo hoo" call. Still it's way "down low" now when PGP are on duty and effective city officers are on patrol too.
I have my suspicions about a neighbor building that had been vacant but secure for the past two years now. Lots of quick visits with different cars. Could be nothing. Just looks like dealing, based on a few solid years of experience. Could be an Amway salesman has moved in. Still, it's being done discretely. I've never felt we can stop all dealing and win the drug war. I think that's futile. But at least they are not dealing on the sidewalk with customers lining up, shooting up, dealers fighting or shooting each other and loitering 24/7.
One thing is certain, there are a lot more kids playing near 1715-1717 and in the vacant lot and alley now. They're loud and happy. Playing in "their yard" with whatever they have, including a milk crate basketball hoop in the alley. I've always said the sound of children playing is the absolute opposite of hearing endless chants of "greens out," or fights, squealing tires or screaming addicts all night long. The local moms feel safer letting the kids out to play. And that's sure progress.
Wednesday, February 11, 3pm: Good to see Foxtrot making a point of flying the school at closing time lately. Also saw a School Police Officer supervising from his car. We don't see the daytime PGP officers covering it quite so conspicuously as they used to. Must be assigned to other priorities at Pedestal Gardens, as has happened more lately.
Pedestal Gardens is definitely back on top of the trash at 1715-1717 Madison again, thank Goodness. Heard their staff picking up debris residents had tossed near the can this morning. It's certainly being emptied more often. We're all grateful.
Regular readers will remember the story of Tanya and Clayton Williams. She's made a guestbook entry about his upcoming court date. We'd fallen out of touch due to misplaced numbers and a broken computer. I'm getting more details to report here soon, but I'm thinking if you can spare an hour or so, Clayton could use the moral support in court. From what I know, I don't think this case should be prosecuted, but I certainly hope he's found innocent.
Was hugely disappointed last night when the School Board did not pass a motion to investigate its financial debacle. Huge breach of fiduciary trust and ethics. I think we should call for US Attorney DiBiagio to launch a full scale investigation right now. Something isn't right. How could a ten million dollar deficit suddenly multiply itself six fold, seemingly a surprise to administrators? Makes the indictment of Norris and the investigation of the City Councils nepotism and favor taking seem meaningless. I highly recommend readers here implore our Senators Mikulski and Sarbanes to press for an investigation on the Federal level.
Was pleased at the Mayor's loan proposal yesterday. Still, the school and city finances were separated years ago. The city can't afford to bailout the schools itself, no matter how important, especially since it is no longer responsible for school management. It has its own priorities, among them trying to protect these kids in the streets and in their homes, a daunting task in itself.
Helping our local schools is probably the biggest thing you can do in the war to take back our streets. The drug dealers begin their apprenticeships early. Those who see no other choices in life make decisions as kids that harm, ruin and end many more lives than just their own.
Unless it's being canceled yet again due to the possibility of inclement weather, the Major's Community Council meeting is being held tonight at the Eutaw Marshburn School auditorium. This initiative promises to coordinate community association leaders with the police. I've asked Carlton Douglas to go in my stead. Perhaps he can be more effective in representing the needs of our block. Though he's actually in the large Druid Heights Community Association borders, we have the same challenges since he's literally around the corner. He and I once described what we do as playing ping pong with dealers. He runs them off, they come here. We run them off, they go there. Sometimes my observations and approach to problem solving here has ruffled feathers. Another's input could be useful. Especially from one who sees the exact the same problems and progress out his window each day and night.
Eutaw Marshburn Vice Principal Jackson is going too, to represent an under represented community association here, the 450 children who attend her school. We've donated a flag recently, money for teacher's texts and are working on plans and funding for gates to secure the playground from the dealers and prostitutes who play there at night. I'm sure the other community associations represented could help as well. And perhaps turn their attentions to the dire needs of the schools in their areas, too.
Monday, February 9, 1pm: Was doing some client work this morning and noticed out my window the Pedestal Gardens maintenance crew picking up all the trash that had blown about their grounds. Made me smile. The container is being kept empty and trash is mostly getting into it now. Looked down and saw my sidewalks littered. Just got in from filling a trash can full. If I'm going to be after my neighbors to clean up, I gotta set an example.
The Mayor's office has assured me the building at 1700 Madison, on the corner will be monitored for sanitation enforcement. Half what I picked up on the street was from these tenants. More than one kitchen trash bag full was just thrown out in front of their sidewalk. Don't mind picking up litter and stuff that got away, but it bothers me to be picking up after such intentional trashing by neighbors. The blight bothers me more though. It's nice when we see Midtown Benefits District people in their red suits helping, but they must be busy elsewhere lately.
Dealing has been light. Saw some of the loitering boys on the corner of McCulloh and Wilson, across from Carlton Douglas' Funeral Home, while picking up. They watched me closely. The boys feel more at liberty to hang out over there because they know when PGP officers are on duty and patrolling they'll get caught here. Some of the proactive city officers will be on after 3pm. I'm sure I'll see them rousting the dealers from their posts while I'm working on another window rebuild here.
The death count on the front page of the site is sad to keep up with. 534 Americans dead in Iraq so far. Just this morning had to add three. An average of two more each day. I suppose for us Baltimoreans it isn't quite so devastating to watch the numbers pile up. We've had a high body count for years. Happy when it's under 300 in a year. Was reading about three more murders here over the weekend. All looked drug war related to me, but of course who can be sure? It's just sad to see so many young men and women killed each day in our wars on both sides of the world.
I've found the officer's snack weakness. It's Rice Krispy Treats. I can't keep 'em stocked. Next trip to Sam's, I'm getting a few more cases. One of those and a hot chocolate seems to be a favorite. I have to stay away from them myself. They're habit forming. Almost as bad as Pop Tarts. Of course, the bottled waters always move fast.
Wow. Always impresses me when Foxtrot swoops in and I hear squealing brakes and sirens. Lieutenant Bailey showed us last year how very clearly the Foxtrot cameras can see the street. I suspect one of our Flex or OCD teams noticed what I'd noticed at McCulloh and Wilson and summoned them for backup. Lots of activity. A chase of some sort. Each time it reminds the dealers who really owns the block. And each time it makes me smile.
Friday, February 6, 1pm: Well, today was the deadline day HUD was told the radio system would be in place. I've heard nothing official, but while talking to Mr. Kluver and Mr. Brown Wednesday night, they showed me inadvertently it was working to their headquarters in Essex quite well. Someone there was testing the reception, probably working on antenna placement. I hope they've set up something with the City Police to make all this radio effort worthwhile. The purpose wasn't to provide good radios to help run a profit driven security company. I wouldn't mind some sort of dispatcher at their company in Essex having a direct phone line to the actual city dispatcher, if that's the best that can be done, but that would put a lot of responsibility on that private company. A company whose owner has only recently seemed to understand that his employees here are regarded as far more than security guards, by both residents and city police officers who see the work they do. He's never worked here.
Whatever is being done, I just hope it's the fastest possible backup for a lone PGP guy trying to do this job. That's all I've ever wanted from this year and a month effort to get a system in place. It'd be nice if someone would tell us. I'm getting emails from concerned readers who don't understand the delays either.
Yes, I said Mr. Brown! He was only temporarily assigned at Sinclair Gates, another client property of SPS Security. Don't know why they'd move him around. Makes no sense. As I said when I noticed him missing, he's a good officer, very familiar with the beat and its residents, many of whom know him by name and like him, too. He's great with the kids especially.
PGP Kluver and Brown were talking to me after I had spent some time helping with the firemen to get the water shut off that was flooding out the apartment house at 1700 Eutaw. Huge torrents of water were coming through from high up in the building. Some children from 1715-1717 Madison ran up to me while I was out helping my neighbor with car troubles. "Mr. Bryan, Mr. Bryan, that house is leaking!" Sure enough, it was.
After calling the DPW and being assured it would get urgent status, "within 24 hours," I went over to the building to see if I could find the water meter valve. Found two men in a pickup, idling on Eutaw. I asked if they were connected with the building somehow. They seemed surprised and said the owner was their sister, "but she's in California." One said he'd been living in the building. He'd apparently taken his belongings out by the looks of the back of the truck. These guys seemed content to just watch as I struggled to get a manhole cover open to find the valve. While working, I saw water had begun to rush out of the basement and that a crack had formed. It looked like damn about to burst and I had visions of a wall tumbling down into the alley and onto the NIMROD building. I called the Fire Department, Engine 13, which is just around the corner from us.
As usual, they responded quickly and together we found a likely valve. It did seem to slow down the torrent. The firemen also had the good sense the brother did not to turn off the power to the building. I noticed the firemen back in the morning. Never did see DPW. I know they're very busy with all the frozen pipes in the city right now. Certainly looked odd, how complacent the owner's brother was. One of the neighbors said "bought it cheap at auction, insure it for a million, pipe breaks, now we got a disaster of a building on the block." I'm sure the damage is catastrophic. Whatever pipes "broke" they were very high up and very large. It was a very good thing DPW had gotten around to fixing the street drain on that corner or the school would have been in a lake of ice.
That was our excitement. Wonder what's next.
While I was working, a mini van pulled up and a lady with some kids in the back asked to speak to me. "You the neighborhood watch guy?" I said "not officially, but I sure do watch." She wanted to know how we could help the school, suggesting perhaps a rally at school headquarters on North Avenue. I suggested she speak to Vice Principal Jackson, if she hasn't been laid off already and reminded her about the rally to help urge lawmakers in Annapolis to help our schools.
We also briefly discussed the idea of a picnic park on the south side of her building. She seemed to like that. "It'd be nice if it wasn't just a dump." So true, however, after some serious encouragement, I'm pleased to report that for the time being at least, the furniture and debris are all gone. It's clear and empty. Remarkable what a few well placed calls and emails can accomplish. Hopefully, we won't need a picture of how it is now to remember it clear and clean, but I don't know. I've squawked about that dump many times, as have my neighbors. Seems a stubborn problem for the property managers.
I've been called impatient and a screamer as an insult lately, by a few of those with money at stake here, and even one reader whose motives and unfamiliarity with my track record seem questionable. I don't mind. Considering the sources, I'm flattered. Those who've been most critical of Vaughn or me are the ones who have been doing the least they can get away with all along. When they're finally pushed into doing the right thing, they say, "if you'd just been patient we would have done it." Like children who have to be cajoled "I told you to take out the trash hours ago. If you don't do it right now there'll be no dessert!" Truth is, patience with some of these players is a long path to no where. It's best to go over their heads. Case in point is a radio system taking a year and a month. I look forward to those who had to be dragged to do it taking credit for it now. I'll be the first to congratulate them. And then I'll say "so now, what about helping on this issue?" They'll say I'm never satisfied. Truth is, I want the neighborhood I live in to be the best it can be. Some of them see it as a cash cow, rather like certain other businessmen who sell their product here every day.
The politics and rumors flying about have been quelled for the time being. Have had some frank and honest talks with some of the participants. In one case, it's become very clear that certain of us were played against each other, quite Machiavellian like, by parties with contracts to protect who didn't like our being allies. Thank you to my "anonymous" sources at those offices. Thanks for letting me know what was really going on so those of us here in the trenches remember we're here together, allies.
Relations are good between PGP field officers and me again now. However, I've asked them not to use our break room anymore. I think that was their bosses choice too, for his own very different reasons. They do have their own very cushy place now at 1715-1717 Madison. I envied the 80 degree rooms, grateful not to have that gas bill! Good to have a place to warm chilled bones, just as we keep the break room here warm 24/7. We've helped them furnish theirs with a futon sofa, big table, phone machine and a nice computer that they use daily. I'll wager they'd still be waiting for a computer and would never have seen the futon if they'd had to rely on IRM or SPS. I walked over a "care package" last night of goodies, including 20 pounds of ice melter and a shaker bottle they could use, some of which had been donated by friends. This is a good thing for all. It will cut down on sharing gossip and it will allow the city officers more privacy when lunching here, something I have always encouraged.
There is an odd relationship between police and civilians here, I guess in the whole country. It's "the thin blue line" attitude of some, but certainly not all officers. They seem to feel it's us versus the citizens, and some of us are bad guys. I don't understand that, but then I'm not a cop. Never wanted to be. I know a PGP officer who desperately wants to be on the police side of this specious line. That aside, it makes no sense to me. There's nothing wrong with police officers knowing and working with citizens. After all, law abiding citizens are their employers and are their best allies on the job. Our police are the law enforcement end of a democratic government. Not military occupiers. They should not think of themselves as an army in the sense that they are separate from the citizenry. They are part of the citizenry. An essential part. They are not soldiers occupying Iraq, though I'm sure it feels that way sometimes. At times this neighborhood has been under seige by terrorist drug dealers. Some need to realize most of us are more than on their side. Some of us citizens do everything we can, from spending months pushing for a radio system to providing a toilet The sort of support troops in Iraq likely don't see.
Oh, check out Michael Olesker's column in today's Sun. It's right on! They're now at www.baltimoresun.com. Of course, that's just my opinion, just as what I write here is my opinion and my observations. This ain't no newspaper.
Thank you to a reader and very helpful friend, Shannon, who just forwarded me this link to new T-shirts about Maryland. Not too flattering to the state. Pretty alarming stats, whichever side of the gun control debate you're on.
The video camera system is coming together as I can afford it. The last system was very effective, until it was attacked. Commissioner Clark when he toured with us last year even asked why the building at 1715 and the school didn't have them. I hope to have good photos for you in future, but I'd prefer not to have mug shots like I used to and scenes of crime in progress. Like uniformed officers, the cameras will keep the dealers from being so blatant. Uniformed officers seldom see dealing in action, certainly not like residents looking out their windows. Something some bureaucrats need to remember.
Wednesday, February 4, 11am: I am setting up my cameras again on the block. Was very effective at illustrating problems before. I can't take pictures of drug dealers with a snapshot camera. They don't like it. Trash heaps aren't likely to shoot back with a gun and they stand quietly and photograph well. I can get dealers in action with web cams and surveillance cameras as I often have. Like Mr. Douglas has at his funeral home on the corner of Wilson and McCulloh. He has tons of video. Too easy for some to think I'm just delusional and I don't know a dealer when I see one. Too easy to discount my observations for another's own purposes.
Found a gold topped vial in front of 1710 yesterday evening while I was chipping some ice. Some stuff in it. Crushed it and swept it away. Likely dropped. Rare. Two red tops, without the vials, shown through the ice I scraped up in front of my house too. I was used to finding greens and blacks all over the sidewalk just a year ago. All quite empty. They used to smoke it right in front of the house having just bought it at 1715 or next door at 1704 and then immediately tossing away the evidence. Readers here might remember the colorful rainbow of vials and tops that once littered the yard. Hard to keep track of all the colors that have and still get sold around here. Sometimes I hear muffled calls that I know are drug hawking but can't tell exactly what color they're saying or to whom. I think they don't want the competition to know they're encroaching on another's territory. I'm glad when they're more discrete. Reduces the chance the competition will kill someone to defend this lucrative territory. The Commissioner has often said the first step is to drive the dealing indoors for just this reason.
Still, Carlton and most of my neighbors on this side of the street and even a few over on Eutaw agree that things are a lot better. Except on the first when the weather was suddenly much better and the checks were out and no officers were to be seen. We're all grateful for that but not content to say this is good enough. The place goes to hell in a handbasket when not properly supervised. Anyone who has watched The Wire or The Corner knows that concentrated Section 8 housing is a crack dealer magnet and requires constant supervision to control. We have a big magnet just across the street.
Would still like an assurance that the radio system we worked so hard to obtain for the Pedestal Gardens officers is happening as it should. Understandably, I'm offended not to be kept up to date. It's something I began at the behest of PGP officers and worked through a reluctant city police department, a reluctant property management firm and a reluctant security company. Took a year to get this far. I sure hope it's in place soon. I only took on the role of 911 liaison for them out of desperation to see the right thing done. I've been glad to give up that work. Sleeping through the night makes one's day much easier.
Still, since I quit, I wonder if they're all right as I try to sleep. So often I would get breathless calls for help from an officer alone with no communications other than me. A couple times quite serious incidents. I have long sympathized with their lack of reliable backup and never have understood why it has taken "an act of congress" to get done.
I hope the various agencies don't think I want to be privy to the how of the radio system. Like most of us, I don't want to be a policeman. That's not my interest or job. All I want is to be assured it makes the Pedestal Gardens officers as safe as they can be, as safe as their counterparts on the city force who do the same risky work. I think I just deserve to know if what I worked so hard to help accomplish has satisfied the officers.
In fact, I have found lately that I have been too chummy with a few officers. Given up too much of my privacy. Much too forthcoming in my comments and suggestions. Too much of what I thought was said in confidence has not been. My words have been twisted and manipulated in the Peyton Place of office and interagency politics that is Pedestal Gardens where defending one's job is too often the priority. Shame. Still, that's fine. Lesson learned. I won't relay my observations or suggestions to these players anymore now, preferring to look directly to the final authorities for results. I'm absolutely only about results now, not playing games. I've given too much time to the game players. This isn't a job for me. This is my home.
I have never asked for the Pedestal Gardens Officers to be my special police friends. I've not asked any more than I would expect them to give everyone else in their beat. Don't need them nearly as much, I'm far more prepared than most. Never have asked for a personal guard. Not even the angry Eutaw Place neighbors have asked for that. PGP have responded, as have city police, to many, many of my calls on behalf of my neighbors and to push away the dealers who invade in swarms frequently when they're not here. In fact, as things have gotten better, I've responded by attempting to work against drug houses in the 1400 block of Wilson, and over on McCulloh, well away from me. I'm hoping that the PGP have indeed kept a solid dossier on 1421 whose open market dealing has gone off the hook. But I won't ask them. I'll just ask Major Skinner to consult them. And require them together to help the people on that block with the Pedestal Gardens courtyard next door.
On closer look, I see that the ice down in the steps of Pedestal Gardens has gotten bad. The warmer weather. I do not know where the maintenance crew or snow removal service is. Salt isn't that expensive. Like the lack of proper communications for officers put in harm's way, I wonder why people take the risk of negligence lawsuits with so many lawyers out there. Of course, no one sane wants to get Pedestal Gardens, even in a settlement. I know I would not want to manage it.
I have some extra salt and extra time for shoveling. Perhaps I'll go over later and use some of it, as I did with the neighbors on this side of the street. Might help me burn off some of this anxiousness about what's happening with the radio system. And perhaps it'll help them know I mean to be a good neighbor, if they don't know that already.
God it would be nice if progress happened when left to the powers that be here, but they've too often been content with the status quo. The balance of power, or lack thereof. Scream, push, pull, drag things along or they would have stayed the same as a Lieutenant downtown has told me this block was since his days on foot in the 80's.
Going to be changing the locks on the substation soon. Want to make it lock automatically when they leave to save them time and to prevent forgetting. Several officers no longer use it. Some have been reassigned or retired. Too many in circulation. A very few avoid it because they have listened to rumors by certain officers who have been kicked out for abuse. That's fine. I have no objection at all if only the officers who can think for themselves use the substation. I think of the substation as a small courtesy extended to officers who work hard, definitely not a reward for mediocrity and laziness. Fortunately, we are very lucky to have mostly very fine officers. I'm sure it does not bother me as much as it does them to have to work with those who are not.
Readers may remember a young man who used to visit here. One who loves our dog Boo. He and his older brothers stopped by yesterday just to say hi. I asked why I hadn't seen him in a while. Frankly I was worried, but didn't let on. "We've moved in with my new dad on the East side." I thought ... no I won't tell you what this cynic thought and certainly didn't say to a six year old with high hopes for his new dad. I said "oh, that's great, how's it going?" The reply "better, can I play with Boo?" And off he went to walk Boo, both of them fairly skipping, as I stayed close but let him enjoy the pleasure. To his brother and former neighbor boys: "When we get a house, I'm getting a dog just like Boo."
He and his brother did look better, too. Clean, nice clothes, well fed. He didn't need or want a tiny loan or a "police man burrito." He hadn't come over to ask if his mom could talk to us to ask to borrow enough for some diapers for his baby brother. They all asked about the next BBQ and if they could still come. Of course they can. "Can we have a water slide this year?!?!"
And yet again I marvel at the timing of this on a day when I was preoccupied with politics and rumors and hurt feelings. Usually, when I'm angry and depressed about how things are going here, something happens to tell me to go on. Often I've wished such moments didn't. I wanted to walk away in anger and disgust, throwing up my hands. I've often said there are much higher powers at work here. Far more important than the egos of police, property managers or amateur neighborhood activists. Priorities that make our petty concerns meaningless and should remind us what we're really here to do.
At last year's BBQ. Click here for the slideshow.
Tuesday, February 3, 6pm: (updated at midnight) Seems certain PGP supervisors believe their officers are doing their jobs by cruising around the properties every couple hours and in between spending their time in the entirely unsupervised break room where they can cook, sleep, take a shower and watch TV. One's decided parking on the other side of the building will keep me from watching them park, go in and not come out again for over an hour.
Shame to see some of these formerly effective officers of the PGP revert to security officer quality. I sure don't know what happened. But it's partly my fault. I became too much the friend, not objective observer. I heaped too much praise on them when they began doing the job they're here for. Human nature to become complacent. "I can do no wrong" seems the attitude of one. He sure as heck is not doing an efficient job anymore.
I say this bitterly because of this evening's example. When I heard "greens out, greens out" at my front door a bit ago, I watched the fellow run across Madison to meet the customer in front of the PGP break room at 1715 Madison, while at least one of those officers was inside. Lately, no one sees them doing the proactive, walk around patrols that made such a difference before. I heard one lame excuse: "ice." Pedestal Gardens is the first in the neighborhood to get dug out and salted. They pay a lot for the service. And the ice hasn't deterred the dealers at all. All our sidewalks have been clear for more than two days. I myself shoveled and salted and chipped from 1712 to 1704. I figure it's my fault there's no one to shovel at 1704 now, though no ever did before.
I also haven't seen one very good PGP officer who I understand has been assigned elsewhere. Shame to lose Mr. Brown. He was quite effective and sincere. No doubt he'll do as good a job in his new assignment, but I'm sure there's no area that needs him more.
To hear "greens out" again makes me very sad. Even if this was just so far an isolated incident, combined with yesterday's free for all it's hugely discouraging. The dealers are not stupid. They see what's happening, the lack of visible patrols around here and are taking full advantage of the neglect, just like the rats.
I'm starting to wonder if there is any other real solution to the Pedestal Gardens problem than to close it down. I'm tired of the fight. I'm sure this will evoke more than one "I told you so" from even more disappointed, bitter, angrier neighbors than me.
I had sure hoped one day I could concentrate on quality of life efforts around here, like cutting down on trash dumping, the rat infestation, the school gates, and sprucing up the block. I wonder now.
Doesn't help to see today's Pedestal Gardens City Dump looks like this ...
Yes, that's open food trash and leftovers strewn all over. Seems to me if the property manager, the maintenance staff or the security officers gave a damn, someone could have called for pickup immediately. They should have brought in an extra dumpster to take away the trash that will immediately just refill it, starting the dump all over again. These aren't wandering drug dealers, though those are pretty obvious to anyone with experience here. Trash doesn't have civil rights. This is right out there for all to see. And it happens frequently.
I'm tired of it. If it isn't gone tomorrow, completely and if it isn't kept up with and improvements made soon, complaints are being filed with the city on Thursday and pursued as aggressively as they were with Clarence Weston. Recently, the mayor's officer put authority for the prosecution of people who create dumps like this, feeding the rats that swarm our streets, to the Health Department as well. The man in charge there, Dr. Beliensen is a very capable public servant who aggressively pursues those who threaten our health.
This dump is in the very lot that I would like to help see become a picnic area for Pedestal Gardens residents so they don't have to hang out with their kids on concrete steps and between cars on nice days. Their apartments have no balconies, small windows, small rooms. Not unlike prison cells. They need a place to enjoy the outside. And I am sure it would contribute to their pride in their homes, which I know will help them keep their own building in better shape. People with pride in their homes have much less tolerance for crime, vandalism, dumping, etc. Before the PGP did so much to improve the crime and dealing here, I would never have dreamed it feasible. But if the Pedestal Gardens security officers get back to doing their job effectively, I think a little park space for the residents would be great. It's just a dump and wasted space now.
Just this afternoon I spoke to Ann Daniels of the Baltimore Community Foundation about a program they have for grants to do just this very sort of improvement. It doesn't have to cost that much. There will be more about this idea soon. Hopefully, it will be embraced by the neighbors, the property managers of Pedestal Gardens and the city. Perhaps IRM's cooperation will be efficient on a project like this, not like it was on the radio system. I guess I do still have hope that things can get and stay better here.
Midnight: I am anxiously awaiting word about implementing the radio support system for the PGP. For some reason, after all our work, we've been kept out of the loop once the system was picked up. Doesn't make sense. Perhaps someone wants to take credit for it all. I don't care. I still see no reason it should have taken over a year to get this no brainer done. Too much politics, bureacracy and finger pointing. All I wanted was to help men I saw doing police quality work get the fastest possible backup they could have from their willing colleagues on the city force. For some reason there are those who need to remember that all my work here (there were many, many hours of correspondence and calls about these radios alone) had no other motivation. I'm not paid here, as are all the other players. The only thing I get out of it is a safer neighborhood, supposedly. But then, so do all my neighbors.
I am really looking forward to reporting that this has finally been done so we can all put our attention to the continuing challenges of this neighborhood. I know there are several readers and neighbors who look forward to hearing this, too.
Monday, February 2, 2pm: Recovering from my super bowl feast. Too much junk food has made chipping the ice slick out on the front walk a real ordeal. Not even our drug dealers should have to walk down the middle of the street (unless of course it's too advertise they're here) to avoid falling and breaking their necks on the ice. I admit though, especially today, I'd like to break a few dealers necks. They're all over, especially on Laurens between Eutaw and McCulloh, right in front of my Pedestal Gardens neighbor. It's more mild today and the first of the month, don't you know. The welfare checks are coming out. Best time of the month for dealers to rake in the cash. One of whom was brazenly counting what must have been a few thousand dollars wadded in his hand as he paid someone for a big baggie, no doubt of crack vials or gel caps of heroin.
No cops of either variety to be seen. Not city. Not SPS. No proactive patrolling whatsoever and I've been working outside for a long while. Had to call 911, like in the old days. Then I did hear Foxtrot later, though never did see a police car and still saw dealers loitering all over Laurens, doing a bang up drive through and walk up business.
Not too thrilled by the managers of the Pedestal Gardens 1715-1717 building at the moment. A variety of things, not the least of which is the glaring lack of security at their building right now. The well known dealer boys have wide open access and free reign.
(Wrote that about 2. Then got a call from Officer Tyler. He was assigned by Pedestal Gardens management to watch one apartment that they are having problems with at another building across the street. Unfortunately, that's not patrolling. If one particular apartment needs constant attention and it's not safe enough for a staffer to handle, than it's 911 time. The Pedestal Gardens officers are not the property manager's errand boys. They're here to control the entire Pedestal Gardens complex and to protect its residents and neighbors.)
Another problem with Pedestal Gardens this afternoon is this ...
Imagine the appreciation for their homes the residents of 1715-1717 Madison Avenue must have looking out their window to see this so often. Imagine how I must enjoy seeing it like this frequently. Imagine what the apartment house and mansion owners on Eutaw think when they look out their back windows.
The dumpster is empty. It was picked up this morning. Early morning. The company brings the truck by reliably after 2am and before 5am. Crash! Boom! Bang! Rattle! Apparently the Waste Management company's convenience is more important than 50 homes sleeping through the night undisturbed.
Now, the Pedestal Gardens maintenance crew will eventually fill the dumpster with what had been the overflow. That will leave it nearly full and it will be overflowing. Starting the dump all over again. They'll leave the two couches dumped there while no one from the security company was around. Seeing this dump just encourages tenants to simply toss their trash in the general direction of the dumpster. One PG resident just opens her second floor window and flings it out. It encourages residents from all around to just dump there too. If the owners don't care, why should I, they think. Trash snowballs.
They need a bigger dumpster. It needs to be emptied more often ... and not at 3am. And it needs to be concealed from view, perhaps behind a wall, so it's not such a temptation to passing junk haulers. I realize it's not entirely the landlord's fault, but nothing's been done in the years I've been here and it is their fault that they let it get out of hand to encourage others to dump there as well.
But the big, number one reason I'm truly miffed with the management of Pedestal Gardens today is their going along with the security company's continued delays with the radio system which was fully tested and picked up over two weeks ago now. Five days later, the repeater was installed (that is, plugged in), but rather than taking a radio down right then to the Central District desk they have been playing with their base station radio in Essex. The officer's safety is not improved by providing communications to the base in Essex. That's not what the system is for.
And I'm enormously disappointed in a field supervisor for the Pedestal Gardens officers who is going along with his boss' desire to use the system to communicate with Essex and even suggesting that the one extra radio purchased for here should be assigned to another property altogether. I feel betrayed by this and question why he seems to completely miss the point of the radio link now. I wonder what motivates him now to side with a business man he frequently faults for not providing any safety equipment at all. Perhaps he got that long promised raise. I don't know. I'd prefer to think that wasn't it, but temporary insanity doesn't make me feel any better either. I do know he is at odds here with three of the effective officers who work this beat. They and their wives and girlfriends completely understand.
As I told Major Skinner today, these additional uses are not what we arranged the system for. City officers monitoring it should not have to listen to anything but priority communications from the Pedestal Gardens officers in the field, as in "I'm fighting with a guy with a knife, I need help" or "I've made an arrest and need transportation for the suspect." If the system is used for other traffic, the din will be ignored and that defeats the whole purpose of their having a lifeline. This is not a party line where everyone should be listening in and interrupting conversations. That's exactly why the Police Commissioner did not trust the special officers here with direct access to the city frequency. I trust the Major can set all these guys straight.
I do not understand why IRM or SPS, who have had to be dragged to providing the proper radio system, would now compromise its purpose and the understanding we worked for so very long to establish with the city police. It just boggles the mind.Wait, I do know why SPS's John Copinger wants to use the radios for his business. Back in September when he promised a reliable radio system by month's end, he said he did not believe the police would indeed monitor the Pedestal Gardens band. Even though they'd offered it quite sincerely. Oh, it's so clear. He wants to make that true and in so doing, get the free radio system that will save him what he used to pay for his unreliable Nextel system. Save me money, get a free radio system, prove me right. Yes, that's consistent with him. So clear.
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