Journal Entries for January, 2005


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Fri
day, January 28, 2005, 10am: I did not attend last night's meeting. I was too angry at losing Major Skinner and at certain community activists who I feel have been dropping the ball lately. Didn't want to say what I was thinking until I've calmed down. I'm not sure, but most readers here know I have a temper. That may not be an entirely bad thing, or so I contend. Sometimes it's best when I let Vaughn attend to PR issues. He's a lot more patient. Good cop, bad cop, you know.

Anyway, he did go. His take on the meeting:

"Last night I attended the Central District Community Relations Council meeting held at MICA's Tower Building. Considering who the Guest Speakers were, I expected a larger crowd. The showing we had, though small was quite diverse. We had residents from all the Hills. That's Marble, Bolton, Reservoir, Seton and Druid. There were representatives from Madison Park, Mt. Vernon/Belvedere, The Baltimore Gay & Lesbian Community Center, the City Paper, Masjid Al-Haqq and of course a representative from the Police Substation in the Madison-Wilson Neighbors Assn. [That would be Vaughn]
 
Police commisioner-to-be Hamm made a very impressive presentation. He shared some of his goals and initiatives that he will or has already implemented including:
Mr. Hamm pointed out for anyone who doesn't know already that he lives at 2018 Madison Avenue, that he's very open to community input and that if his big black car is in front of the house, you're welcome to knock.
 
City Council President Sheila Dixon was in attendance taking lots of notes. She also gave a very short but positive "State of the City" address which included ways of finding more funding for the police and quashed the rumor that Officers presently assigned to Reservoir Hill are being retired or gotten rid of.
 
The new Central District Major Sheppard, who was promoted to this position, seems up to the task and is very happy to accept any and all input from concerned citizens.
 
Sargeant Hess is still in charge of community relations and as always extended his efforts to us in any way we ask.  All in all a good meeting. Since Major Skinner's schedule is no longer a problem, the monthly Central District Community Relations Council meeting will be moved to the 4th Wednesday of every month."

When I got home from dinner, the block was swarming with dealers. I was enraged. A friend called the cops for me. When officers arrived, the dealers were all gone. Either I see drug dealers where there are none as some would like you to believe (IRM, SPS), or they have radio scanners and lookouts. I wonder what, if anything, the new Pedestal Gardens cameras saw. I do know that after Mr. Brown was off duty, the only time I saw a PG security officer yesterday afternoon or evening was when he swiped his bar code on the station across from this house. Talk about doing the minimum. At least when Mr. Tyler and Mr. Brown are on, they make themselves obvious, to me and to the dealers.

Putting the newly donated Bunn coffee maker in the substation finally. It has a hot water dispenser so officers can make tea and hot chocolate instantly so to be on their way that much faster. Sometimes I don't think they have the two minutes to microzap the water or zip a fly. Often I see half eaten sandwiches in the can left by officers hastily leaving for an emergency call. I'm glad we put in the self locking door. Now they don't have to fumble for the key to lock the door anymore. And darn it, they are using the space. You know how often I envy them the nicest rooms in this house. Of course I realize their very presence makes it possible for us to live in this drug full zone.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005, 10am: I'm sorry Central District Major Skinner has been reassigned to the Western District. I suppose that's the price he pays for being so good at his job here. Now he has to learn a whole new district, all the bad areas, bad guys, community leaders, etc. He'd only been with us less than two years, but he was very good at including the citizens of the community in police work. I think he considers us all on the same side. Too many police leaders consider there are three sides: police - good citizens - criminals.

I don't know much about our new Major Shepherd, except that he was formerly in charge of "tactical," which I believe includes the motorcycle division. I've only met our new Commissioner Designate once, at a Madison Park Association meeting. He's lived two blocks up from us for years. He was between jobs, supposedly retired, then. I know he's experienced and highly regarded by officers on the street who hope he's confirmed.

If you'd like to meet the Commissioner Designate, go to the Community Relations Council meeting tomorrow ...

"The next Central District Community Relations Council meeting will be held on THURSDAY, January 27, 2005 6:30 PM at the Maryland Institute College of Art Tower Building located in the 1400 Block Cathedral Street. The meetings will be on the fourth Thursday of the month now.

The guest speaker will be former Central District Commander and now Acting Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm. He will talk about his ideas on reducing crime in Baltimore. Many of us know Acting Commissioner Hamm from his Central District days and may want to say hello, others can attend our meeting and meet the Acting Commissioner.

Major Skinner will attend the meeting and discuss recent crime patterns, crime initiatives and drug unit progress in the neighborhoods.

Our Council needs your support so please plan to attend this months meeting so we can continue our partnership in crime reduction and neighborhood improvement.

See you at the meeting!

Sgt. Charlie Hess"

I wouldn't expect Major Skinner to attend now. And it may be asking a lot for Major Shepherd to attend since his first day is today. Still, a good chance to see and hear who will likely be our Police Commissioner permanently. However long permanent is.

The Pedestal Gardens dump

I really must learn to stop giving credit to Pedestal Gardens management for improvement. You can't rely on them for even the smallest things. Lately, the dump at Pedestal has been in full swing. Seems they can't have the dumpster emptied often enough to keep up with their trash. Perhaps now that the meeting with HUD is over, they feel they can let everything slip. Maintenance did come by late this morning to put this in the dumpster, but unless that's dumped immediately, the cycle will start over again. In the meantime the rats and sea gulls have a field day and the wind carries PG's trash all over the block where maintenance does not pick it up.

Please feel free to call them at 410.523.2341 or email their VP at dmiller@irmmgmt.com if you'd like to tell them what you think. An email to HUD would be very helpful, too. Maryann Henderson is in charge of assuring Section 8 subsidized housing here is safe and sanitary. She might well want to hear what the neighbors think. Maryann_Henderson@hud.gov.

Seems a given that Interstate Realty Management does not want to manage reliably in even the simplest and most basic ways, let alone the bigger issues. So the city is left the burden, both in policing their property, driving out drug dealers and in simple proper sanitation. I've alerted Sanitation Enforcement. Just like my supposedly philanthropic neighbors behind me, only forcing them to do right seems to work.

another dump

This is a regular sight across the alley from the substation. Directly in the alley, often blocking the officers. As I've lamented here before, I have called the owners. At their insistence I called their property managers (passing the buck is not exclusive to Pedestal Gardens management) and finally called Sanitation Enforcement. A very businesslike Officer Dorsey came out and issued them a citation with a fine. This property is owned by the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation (410.523.1350) under the entity "Druid Partners LP." Supported by HUD and other taxpayer money. You'd expect better of them. I still do.

There's a great testament to the Baltimore Police Department in the guest book today. It speaks with pride of accomplishment we can clearly see and directly to the issue of how badly Pedestal Gardens has been neglected by management.

The posting ...

Bryan,

On January 19, 2005 at 0500 hours we executed search and seizure
warrants on eight locations inside the Pedestal Gardens Complex.

1. 1717 Madison Apt. 204

2. 1717 Madison Apt. 202

3. 1717 Madison Apt. 302

4. 1512 Eutaw Pl. Apt. A-3

5. 1512 Eutaw Pl. Apt. 104

6. 1521 Madison Apt. 202

7. 1516 Eutaw Pl. Apt A-2

8. 323 McMechen St. Apt. 103

We arrested numerous individuals and seized a significant amount of crack cocaine and marijuana. Also, because of these raids we identified numerous individuals that do not belong at these locations. Special Agent Dan Harding of the Inspector Generals Office was provided a list of all these names and is currently working diligently to get these individuals removed permanently. I hope these efforts have made some difference in this community, we have certainly been putting in a lot of hard work. We have also identified several targeted individuals and are in the process of writing arrest warrants for these key dealers which should be picked up very shortly. I pray our efforts can be seen and felt.

These efforts most definitely can be seen and felt and have already made a big difference in this community. I'm told most of these warrants were "good," meaning there was good evidence. Hopefully the State's Attorney will use it effectively. The exceptions were things like people who'd moved before the warrants could be executed.

We are extremely grateful to these officers for this large and concerted effort. I know an undermanned team of fine officers worked a lot of overtime to get the job done. We rarely know half what they do but the results of the officers' hard work has been obvious to all, as were the arrests. It's been especially obvious to those who've seen Pedestal Garden's bad management as their license to intimidate and exploit those moms and kids and terrorize our neighborhood. I know most of the residents of Pedestal Gardens are grateful, too, but can't show it or say it.

We were promised this effort by Major Skinner a few weeks ago and he and his officers delivered with the help of the law enforcement arm of HUD. A very loud signal has been sent to the residents not to accommodate the dealers and to the dealers themselves. We will not tolerate the dealing or property managers who foster it through their negligence. I know a very clear message has also been voiced to Interstate Realty Management: Shape up or get out. We're all tired of it: neighbors, HUD and police. Speaking for the neighbors: "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take this anymore!"

If I have the chance at tomorrow's meeting, I hope to tell Commissioner Designate Hamm how happy we are with the work of this fine team of officers. Perhaps he can use the same strategies effectively, hopefully with more officers, at other troubled properties in the city.

Monday, January 24, 2005, 1pm: The frigid weather would discourage drug thugs, you'd think. Not on this block of Madison Avenue. Last night while I was watching the dogs do their business, I heard "greens out, greens out, greens out!" again. It's been a while. I was disappointed but not surprised. Brought a weak smile from a nostalgia I'd prefer to avoid.

The security provided by Pedestal Gardens management (too often that's a misnomer) is back to light duty here, and that's an understatement. Certainly not the 24/7 conspicuous coverage they were providing up until that meeting with HUD. This is a familiar pattern with Interstate Realty Management: Make a good show when you think you're being watched and then go back to crap.

This weekend's snow is a good example. Previously, Pedestal Gardens had a service that promptly plowed their parking lot and did the walkways. I was jealous. They'd shame me into donning my parka and shovel even in the worst. They seem to have stopped that and gone to using their maintenance staff which only works weekdays, though likely they're still collecting from HUD for professional service.

snowed in

All weekend, after the snow Saturday, the walkways were not cleared. The moms and kids had to plod through it and walk in the street. The parking lot was plowed, but even the dumpster was neglected...

Pedestal Gardens public dump

The collection truck came, but debris was left to drift amongst the snow. No staff over the weekend to take care of it.

But to be fair, and I'm all about that, they were here this morning ...

PG shovelers

Problem is, a responsible property owner would have dug them out right after the snow fall. Most of our neighbors and I cleared our sidewalks right away. After all, we're on the route of school kids heading to Eutaw Marshburn right across the street..

Got an email from someone on our side (that would be the not drug dealing side of the problem here)  last week. In it he said "That journal entry on your site has done more harm than help!" He was concerned I had personally tipped off the drug dealers there were now cameras at this Pedestal Gardens property. As if it wasn't obvious to all. I was surprised and very, very disappointed. As I told him and the other players on "our" side, this website has done a lot of good. First and foremost, it has cast a spotlight on the sources of the trouble on this block. It's the squeaky wheel that's gotten some grease. He's new to this particular game, though he's highly qualified and well regarded by his colleagues. I respect him, too, though I don't know him well, and very much appreciate his efforts. But I agree with a recent website guestbook entry and think we deserve a little credit for our efforts here ...

Bryan,
Your thorough and critical work on these issues are tremendous. You are doing what none of us have been willing to do. Thanks again - you are handling this "game" in the critical manner that is required.

No, I don't really think I'm the reason the problems are getting attention here. I think Vaughn and I have simply helped. After all, we're the only homeowner/occupants on the block. That lack of being personally invested here is likely the only reason this block has been consigned to its hell for so long. I pray soon we can find an owner/occupant for the now boarded crack house next door at 1704. The city finally owns it. Time to find a real owner fast, as we did for the this former crack house and the shooting gallery dump that was 1708 and 1706 Madison Avenue.

Another homeowner/occupant here would be the real beginning of lasting change. Not one of the people who damage this block actually lives here. Not the drug dealers. Not the grossly negligent property managers/owners. Even the law enforcement officers we rely upon do not live here, unless you count the new Police Commissioner-Designate who lives two blocks up in an enclave that emulates Bolton Hill in it's pretense at being an island unto itself. Some may take advantage of renters, but no one who makes the money a drug dealer makes wants to live here. That takes crazy folk. A quality I readily admit.

Back to the meeting between the property managers and those we entrust to administer our tax dollars at HUD. Apparently, they presented the wonderful improvements they've made: a passcard system and cameras. Supposedly proof of a real effort at control. HUD apparently warned them that property owners can be forced to replace property managers if they want to continue feeding at the taxpayer provided trough. Arrests and other stats the police department keep didn't help the present property management's case. I do not know if they played the first archives of their cameras showing no activity at all thanks to the 24/7 security coverage that's since ended. I'm sure that was their plan. I don't think it would have impressed law enforcement officers who know better or HUD bureaucrats who've seen it for themselves recently, too.

It seems certain parties beyond just the negligent property managers would like to keep us from being privy to these meetings and hearing what's actually being promised and what's actually being done. It's very important to bad property owners to obfuscate and pass the buck, divide their critics and avoid answering questions they can't control. That's a game played by way too many property owners here in Baltimore. As large a part of the problem as the drug dealers themselves, but one not properly addressed.

Readers here and others not yet aware of this particular source of the neighborhood's problems will soon find out and I'm sure will demand answers, as we have. One has to look at the source of the problem, not write it all off to an unbeatable enemy. And the source of the problem as we see it, is those who intentionally or negligently make a drug ghetto possible. Like Clarence Weston. Like Pedestal Gardens.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005, 6pm: Watched as the last of the new cameras was installed on 1715-1717 yesterday ...

door cameras

Today, all the doors of that building have their own cameras. You can see all around the area, even who is holding the door open, but you can't see inside ... yet. Maybe that's coming.

door cameras

Interstate Realty Management's VP Don Miller doesn't want me at the meeting tomorrow. Who can blame him? No one likes to get ganged up on. He's used the excuse that the meeting includes private financial information. I do wonder what's private when you accept millions of dollars of taxpayer money. IRM needs to explain tomorrow why they've accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of extra money from HUD to secure their client's property and only now are finally putting in cameras and apparently doing the right thing. Or at least making it look that way.

Saw Mr. White, one of the middle level managers from IRM at the property today. Skulking. The one brought back even though he's the one who was in charge before when things were out of control at the property. That makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? He's paying attention because of the meeting tomorrow. Waved at him, in a nice way. He didn't acknowledge me. I wouldn't either. I'd be too ashamed of myself, too.

Baltimore City Police Major Skinner will be at the meeting tomorrow. Apparently the financial issues aren't a concern in his presence. <g> That's fine with me and the neighbors. He's the one they've got to satisfy. He and his team are the ones we rely upon for our safety here, certainly not the SPS security company. His philosophy about this property, all of Pedestal Gardens in fact, is that they must control it. It cannot be allowed to continue as a burden to the city and a risk to his officers and the good citizens who live at Pedestal Gardens and in the neighborhood. The property managers have often argued they pay property taxes, that the police are responsible for policing their property. Well, no, that's not true. Not when you have a property owner, through his agents, that does not work in good faith to supervise its tenants. Pedestal Gardens makes money for its owners. It's their responsibility to manage it in such a way that it does not burden the city and create the cancer it has for this neighborhood.

Baltimore City Police seem to be paying more attention to PG lately. With good reason. I believe they intend to clean it up and say to the property owners "we've fixed it, you must keep it that way." Absolutely "right on!" if you don't mind my using that old saying. Other authorities are taking notice of Pedestal Gardens, too. Including City Council members. There's a growing spotlight. Too many neighbors, here and in Bolton Hill, have had enough. Perhaps even the fact the new City Police Commissioner lives two blocks up from here is having some influence.

The cameras are a step in the right direction. So very long overdue. How they're used is another question. The security officers should have access to the cameras, not necessarily to the archives, if indeed there are any, but everyone knows that a simple machine can store 70 hours of video digitally. The security guards should not have access to the archives so they themselves can be properly supervised, but they should be able to see a set of monitors and review what's happened while they're away at other calls about the property. "Hey, I warned that guy about trespassing yesterday, I guess I should arrest him today."

The dealers will soon be testing this system. They will attempt to destroy the cameras, as they did here once until they were made inconspicuous. They will test to see if anyone's actually watching or if the cameras are being recorded. One has to wonder who will be custodian of the record. I can see much too large a motivation on the property management's firm to delete images of suspicious activity and claim everything's all right. The images should be broadcast on the internet. The public should be allowed to watch.  There's no coincidence that the IRM and HUD meeting is tomorrow and that for the past couple weeks the security guards have been deployed 24/7. I fear after IRM thinks it's conned HUD, we'll go back to sporadic and unqualified security coverage. If no one but the property manager's control the taxpayer paid for cameras, how credible will they be?

The cameras, the police cleanup and the renewed interest by the property managers in at least appearing to do the right are encouraging. A good beginning for a new year. Maybe there's hope for this end of Madison Avenue yet.

Monday, January 17, 2005, 11am: Been watching a lot of work on the roof at 1715-1717 Madison ...

roof workmen

Turns out cameras have finally been installed on the building.

camera

They're on opposite ends of the building. One does not seem to watch the other, as has often been advised, but they are the vandal resistant type. Apparently articulating. I don't know who is watching them or if they're being recorded. I don't know anything yet. Having declared war on Pedestal Gardens management, I'm not in the loop so much anymore. But then there was no loop before, no progress and in fact rapid decline, until I did declare war. Vaughn's pointed out to me that while I may not be privy to what they're doing at PG now, it's likely the realization they'd used up their last friend in the neighborhood that spurred them to action.

Cameras have been way too long in coming. Then Commissioner Clark, a few weeks before he was even confirmed, looked at Pedestal Gardens with me in February 2003 and asked where the cameras were. We'd been asking the same question for four years. Always told by PG management, "there're problems with cameras ..." Always a ration of excuses. That's Interstate Realty Management's style ... excuses until forced into action.

Their meeting is now scheduled for Thursday at HUD's offices downtown. Not sure if I'm invited yet. Though I've said meeting with them would not be good for my temper, I'd like to hear the new "master plan." I'm sure many of my neighbor's would too. Surprisingly, perhaps, even at this eleventh hour, if the right things are finally being done, I'll be happy. Progress and a real commitment to permanent change, actual management, is all I've ever required.  Was speaking to Dr. Howard, of Eutaw Place, about it just last Thursday. We're very curious what this desperate management company is finally doing. Heard they've lost at least one management contract in Baltimore recently due to their inept management. I'm curious if the owners of this property realize what thin ice IRM and PG are on.

The security guards have been on 24/7 over the weekend. Much more conspicuous. No doubt IRM trying to make sure nothing happens ahead of the "called on the carpet" meeting with HUD. Funny thing about even the possibility of being videotaped, it makes you more careful. Both security guards and drug dealers. Was watching a family looking at the new camera the other day, one of the kids doing a dance for its audience. Also watched a handful of "bad boys" looking at it, shaking their heads, literally. No doubt lamenting their sales territory was being compromised. One of the PG security guys related that a dealer asked him last week when the cameras would be up, his reply "why don't you just stick around and find out?"

One thing that would impress me about IRM's new resolve to fix things would be to fire their security company. That's been a large part of the problem this past year, yet IRM and SPS seem stuck at the hip. I've pondered aloud why here in these writings before. The security vendor has said and proven time and time again that he doesn't care about his employees and cares even less about this neighborhood. We're just a cash cow for that greedy a__hole. I agree with a poster in the guestbook, off duty city police officers would be far better. Employed directly by Pedestal Gardens. Cut out the middle man's profit. He's a useless leech. Would be even better if the off duty officers were the ones who work this beat when they're on duty. They'd know the players better. At least another security company makes sense. One that uses commissioned officers, like PG used to have, and always uses armed and qualified guards. I've seen unarmed kids working PG lately.

There's a passcard system at 1715-1717 now. That might explain why I've seen less traffic through the fire doors on this side in the past couple weeks. Unfortunately,  residents still can "buzz" anyone in and there's likely no accounting for who lets who in when, but it might be a start. Again, be interesting to hear how this is being implemented and how it fits with a plan of action that satisfies us all, including Baltimore Police Central District Major Skinner who has been very hands on here. He is adamant that property owners must be responsible for their properties. And that is the key. Pedestal Gardens will be a responsible neighbor now or will cease to exist. There are no options for that landlord. The time for excuses and BS is over.

Wednesday, January 5, 2005, 11am: A belated Happy New Year!

Though I'm sure negligent property managers are disappointed, we're still here. Been busy with business and of course the never ending needs of an old house. Nothing much to report here. Nothing new that is.

Dealers and deals continue in and out of our block's thriving crack house, 1717-1715. The good weather and the first of the month government checks produced a brisk business as usual. Visitors here over the holidays said things like "as I was driving in these guys were at every corner. I thought that was better." Alas, it was better, but certainly not anymore.

I understand HUD is talking to the property managers of Pedestal Gardens this week. They wanted equal time. Being at that meeting would do nothing but make me angrier than I am. No doubt they will have grand promises of cameras and locks and fences and better security that for some reason all couldn't be done long ago. They talk a good game, but still the place is unsupervised, out of control. I hope HUD doesn't fall for their con. They've had their chance. And anyone who actually watches, knows exactly what's going on there. Just as the reps from HUD saw when they visited here. I'm surprised they have the nerve to try it again. Most con men move on before they're caught.

Was speaking to one of those elusive Pedestal Gardens security guards. One of the last effective ones. Told me he made an arrest at 1717 a week ago. Guy was standing at the fire door I've often described, peering out, talking on his Nextel walkie talkie: "Do you see him? I don't see him."  The officer (yes, he's commissioned by the police department) said "that might be because I'm right behind you." I think he told me he found 17 vials of crack on the "suspect." Of course, with our State Attorney's policy that less than 30 only qualifies as possession, not "possession with intent to distribute," this will result in a slap on the wrist. He'll be back in the hallway of 1717.

Unfortunately, this officer is on duty alone way too often. So the dealers just keep track of where he is. All of them have their Nextel's and regular cell phones glued to their ears as they patrol the Pedestal Gardens community. The property manager often summons him to the building in which she works, on the other side of the school, leaving our crack house unsupervised too often. Even asks them to walk her to her car each day. Must be real proud of running a residential community she herself is afraid of. What about the women and children who live there 24/7?

As we were talking the officer watched as a handful of young men walked by, into the entrance of 1715. I said "any doubt about what's going on there?" He said "actually, I'm rather proud of that one. He showed me his paystub. Got a job working construction." I was going to say that's an old scam city officers have told me about before. When asked why a 19 year old boy has $1000 in small bills on him, they think it's clever to reply "cashed my paycheck, look at my paystub." After the officer went on yet another call away from 1717, I took no satisfaction in watching the "construction worker" saunter back on his way to man his corner, now reupped from the stash at 1715-1717.

Shortly after I saw the door repair people working on the notorious fire doors, I began hearing a familiar squeal. It was the alarm that sounds when the door is open. Very annoying to me, but utterly useless. The apartments are like prison cells. Solid concrete block. Add a loud TV and the residents not doing business in the hallways don't even hear it. I recall four years ago walking around the block to find the source of that noise. Same thing. I don't hear it regularly now. I think they must have broken it yet again. Perhaps it interfered with their Nextel conversations. Just another example of Pedestal Gardens management playing games. Doing tried and disproved things over and over again. That seems logical now that they've brought back the failed manager from before.

I've read The Wire may not be picked up for another season. Imagine how disappointed I am. <g> I sure hated having a real drug corner, mine, exploited for a TV show. We can film it, but we can't fix it. Just another example of people capitalizing off the drug epidemic. Colombians, dealers, crack house property managers and TV producers. Pretty pathetic. Perhaps it will do well in reruns and DVD sales.

I do feel like the 1700 Madison Avenue drug market is back to reruns again. Pity, it was looking like things were changing for the better for a while back in 2003. I didn't know then it was a just a sham to appease HUD and keep the tax money flowing.

Still, I have high hopes for 2005. After all, just got our new property tax assessment figure. This house's value has doubled, according to the state. That's good, right? What an investment this has turned out to be! Location is everything. We went from a $7000 valuation to $14,000. I fear our property taxes might exceed $200 per year soon. Just across the street this house would be worth ten times more.

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