Journal Entries January 1 to 13, 2003 (most recent entries first)

click here for archive index

Monday morning, January 13:
I've had some productive email exchanges with one of the security guards charged with supervising the Section 8 apartment building across the street at 1717-1715 Madison.

I think everyone trying to help here is under a lot of stress. I know readers here have seen hastily written, exasperated, sometimes bitter comments by me, too. Everyone, the guards, the management of 1717-1715, Vaughn and I, and all the good folk who live on both sides of the avenue here are frustrated. Many of the residents here gave up long ago as I have so often been tempted to do. Some are part of the problem, like so many of those living in 1704.

Those of us working every day to help, like the security staff, the officers and I, often get stressed to the breaking point. We want to point fingers, find blame. We have to remember our divisiveness just weakens the effort against a very well organized, efficient and ruthless enemy: the dealers who've used this block for many years.

It has never been my intention to imply that 1717-1715 is the source of the block's problems. I'm not one of those whose mansions back up to that building from Eutaw. The ones who see low income renters as the source of all evil and a threat to their highest priority: property values. Being actually in the middle of it, I see the problem. I see the dealers drive in. I watch their leaders and their organization. I know good folk in that building and others on this street are secretly on our side, rooting for the good guys ... even as they have to live with the bad.

I have often written here that increased presence of the security staff has helped enormously. I have had suggestions about how best to utilize their efforts, based on my observations. They may not always have been flattering, but I am constantly questioning everything here in an effort to make my neighborhood better. I've often been critical of police strategies, of the big church here, of the school management. Whatever we're doing here isn't working. Nothing's changed. So we have to question the old ways and try new approaches until it does.

One new thing is the meeting at the Community Law Center tomorrow. People who can make a real difference will be there: CLC lawyers, city lawyers, Richard who manages 1717-1715, Major Gutberlet, and leaders of organizations who can help bring about a change of ownership at 1704, that house which contributes so much to the dealing and where children live among gun toting criminals and squalor. I'm extremely hopeful this meeting will be the beginning of the end of that bane of our block. I hope to have some real progress on this front to report soon.

Saturday night, about 8, January 11: Another guestbook entry, in fact two, from an angry security guard with the firm employed to supervise 1717-1715 Madison, across the street.

This time the gentleman used a real email address and I recognize him as one of the guards whom I thought was a friend. Apparently I was only a friend when I was allowing them to use the police officer's break room and writing flattering things about the guard's work.

Two BPD officers are down in the substation now, eating their dinners, warming up. They tell me it's a quiet night. I haven't noticed too much dealing outside either. Bitter cold and a football game are slowing things down, even prime time on a Saturday night.

Still, within minutes of the security guard leaving his post just now, an intrepid dealer is visiting his stash in that building. It only takes a few minutes absence. Little happens there when the guards are here watching, but the dealers keep watch on the guards, too, waiting to visit their stash.

I sure do wish 1704 had even part time guards. That way the dealers wouldn't be in there, warm and watching the game right now, waiting for customers to drive up and honk.

Vaughn and I had a nice chat Thursday night with a City Paper writer. She met some officers and a Bolton Hiller bringing Pop Tarts for them. She met our building's security guards, Cino, Latte and Boo, the Pit Bull mutt trio. She took a tour of the neighborhood with Vaughn. Apparently, she got to see a lot of dealing, especially out of 1704.

Probably the most notable moment for her was when the officers she was chatting with hurriedly ran out to help with a car jacking at knife point that had occurred only two blocks away. They sped off, leaving their suppers on the table. As they rose to answer the call, they hesitated about leaving a mess, but I said "go, I'll take care of it." I put it away for them, as I've often done, quietly wishing them luck. They came back later to finish their lunches, reheating them in the micro. When I came back down to ask, they were all smiles and proud to report they'd caught the car and the carjackers. When they left, one said "now I'll be downtown doing paperwork for hours!"

According to Vaughn, while I was out of earshot, one of the officer's told the reporter they like this break room because "at other ones, you've got to ask for a key to the restroom, there's no place quiet, they're dirty and people bother you for favors." I'm happy they like this little break room, and proud to provide some small comfort to people who go running off in the night to chase knife wielding carjackers.

(When driving in the city, keep your doors locked.)

Thursday 5PM, January 9: Spent the day doing warm weather work: caulking, sealing the new substation steps, and then applying 15 gallons of asphalt roof coating to the roof of the main house. I'm trying to coax another season out of the old roof. Had to take advantage of this warm day. It felt like 70, though I'm sure it was 60 at best.

Came down to find someone had signed the guestbook, leaving a nasty, profanity laden personal attack. Sounded like a disgruntled security guard. Apparently he took exception to my comments about the security of the building across the street at 1715-1717 Madison. The same one where the impressive helicopter and horse sting took place yesterday. The same one where I've mentioned so often the nonstop traffic goes in and out from the market at the corner.

Since he didn't use a valid email address or identify himself, the entry was deleted, as it plainly states is my policy.

We have allowed the security guards from across the street to use the substation because they have been helping to contain the problems there, when they are on post. They are still welcome to use the substation properly, as do so many BPD officers on three shifts.

The email contained a veiled threat that they won't be there to help me. I never expected that. Too often they have been preoccupied elsewhere to be near enough to help should I be attacked. I'm content when they are where they're supposed to be, actively discouraging dealing in their building, as they are employed to do. I wish there were guards next door at 1704 to contain that crack circus, but I have reason to hope that will soon be closed down completely. As for me, I have always put stock in my own defenses and the many officers whom I know would respond as quickly as they could should I call 911.

In fact, the other day, I heard a knock on the door about 3AM. I think I've mentioned it previously. It was a concerned officer who'd tried to call me about 11 and 1 and got no answer. After a while he'd gotten too worried. Usually, I'm up quite late. That night I'd tried going to bed earlier. He was so apologetic about waking me, but I was touched. Talk about community policing.

That same officer and two others have told me how extremely disappointed they are that the State's Attorney has released the man who fired on officers during a drug sting at his home. They feel it's been made clear you can shoot a cop and get away with it. How that must make them want to do their jobs. For God's sake, there was enough evidence to at least file, Ms. Jessamy. Let a judge and a jury decide the merits. That's unreliable enough in Baltimore. Instead, you've just done more damage to police morale. We have senior beat officers counting the days to retirement and younger ones putting out resumes. Hardly the way to make a safer city.

Wednesday 3PM, January 8: Today's color is blue. Not because of my mood, but in honor of those in blue who deserve a big thank you today.

I was at my desk working when I heard, quite loudly from overhead "they're coming out the back!" I realized there was a helicopter over the building across the street, 1717-1715 Madison, the Section 8 housing.

When I went to the window there were two squad cars and an unmarked unit on Madison and a plainclothesman running at top speed around the outside of the building. The helicopter was hovering very low, I almost expected it to land in the vacant lot.

foxtrot helicopter

I saw the plainclothes officer unholster and order two young men to stop. The uniforms caught up with them from inside and the bust was done, but that's not all ...

suspects & horse

Yes, that's a horse! After they had the suspects down, from up Wilson I heard a clop, clop, clop in between the throp, throp, throp of the helicopter and here comes a policewoman on her beautiful white horse to help. The pilot said something pleasantly funny about the horsie to the rescue, it conveyed a comraderie amongst those officers.

I know I was shocked, but you should have seen the neighbors. School was letting out. The little ones were fascinated by the beautiful horse. The older ones were impressed by the show as dramatic as any they'd see on TV. The dealers all slinked away. Two who'd parked in front of me quietly skulked back from the corner, got in their car and drove away as inconspicuously as they could. The loud woman who sells crack from the stoop of 1704 stopped smiling and was very quiet.

I called Major Gutberlet. His secretary asked the nature of the complaint. I said "no complaint, just want to thank him." I wonder how rarely she hears that. He picked up and said "Hi Bryan."

I tried to say what I was thinking. It came out a stuttered blurting of words like "there was a helicopter, a horsie, uniforms, squad cars..."

He replied "you mean the tactical op and the horse patrols," or something like that. He explained the helicopter had done the surveillance, I guess from way up because I didn't hear it until it came down. They got their officers coordinated and swooped in. Then to see the white horse was amazing. We're going to have horse patrols for a while now. I'm thrilled they're not just for the waterfront.

This orchestration of personnel and technologies old and new was a marvel to behold. I got that tingly feeling of pride and patriotism you sometimes get when the national anthem is sung.

I'm still elated. Early this morning I was angry and frustrated. Not unusual around here. Sometimes I get so angry I want to go out in the street and administer some vigilante justice. Others I want to shoot myself. Then there are moments like this.

It is absolutely true. Every time I get to the breaking point, something like this happens and for a moment, however fleeting, I'm reminded things can change. They can be better. And the only failure is giving up. It's just so damned hard to remember that sometimes, isn't it?

Wednesday noon, January 8: I've been told some of the SPS guards are not happy with my comments here and they say there are those with the BPD who feel the same. That's a shame.

I call it as I see it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

When security or policing are not being done adequately, I'm complaining. I don't want or expect special treatment. I just want to see the job done.

All I want is for my neighborhood to be a safe place. Period. Should I not have moved here then? Good question. I think the decent people in this neighborhood deserve a safe place to live, too, regardless of whether I was here or not. The fact I'm willing to complain, sometimes loudly and bitterly, is either my doing my civic duty or stupid. In Baltimore, doing your civic duty often is dangerous, though that should not be confused with stupidity.

From the guards across the street I want nothing more than deterrence and supervision of their building. Not heroics. Just conspicuous presence. I want that building controlled. The security people are trying. I believe the managment company there is trying.

From the Baltimore Police, I want fast responses to 911 calls and patrols frequent enough to make the corner less hospitable to the dealing. I believe the officers are trying. And in many cases they've been very effective here, as on
November 8 when beat officers effected that very worthwhile sting next door.

No one is trying to control 1704 Madison Avenue at all. The owner there clearly does not give a damn about his tenants, the neighborhood, or the city ... even though he collects a city paycheck. So we are pursuing every available route to close that crack house down, kick out the dealers and prevent them from using it as they are now.

As with rats, you've got to close off all their nesting places. Without supervision, 1717-1715 becomes a nesting place within minutes sometimes. A place where dealers keep their stashes and terrorize residents, just as they are doing next door at 1704.

We're doing something about next door. We've been waging war on that house for months, including
bringing in the media. Meeting next week with lawyers and other neighbors at the Community Law Center. We're going to close down that crack house one way or the other. And we'll work just as agressively to close down any other nesting places. This is our neighborhood and if we don't do what we can, who will?

Sometimes I have been rude or harsh here. In hindsight, I can see where some of my comments could be taken personally. In some cases they should be, if the shoe fits, but most of the time I mean no offense to anyone individually, unless I name them and I'm very clear then. As with Johnnie Cochran. Obviously I think he's beneath contempt and that's a personal insult. I doubt he cares.

Otherwise, those who take my criticisms personally should try to remember I'm just doing what I perceive as my job, to help make this neighborhood better in any way I can and that includes criticism when I think it's deserved. I'm not into politics. I'm not attacking anyone and I apologize if I've offended. I'm trying to call attention to the problems, suggest solutions and simply to be a record of life here on Madison Avenue, a place that's had no attention for a very, very long time.

Wednesday morning, January 8, almost 5AM: I should have gone to bed while I was ahead.

There's really something way wrong here. Right now I'd like to wring Johnnie Cochran's neck. He of the "if the glove don't fit, you must acquit" travesty.

Now he wants to blame the city for the Dawson family murders! Because we encouraged the Dawson's to report drug activity, we're to blame for what the drug dealers did.

Check out this morning's Sun, front page below the fold and online at
http://www.sunspot.net/bal-te.md.dawson08jan08,0,6116466.story?coll=bal%2Dhome%2Dheadlines

We can't seem to hold the dealers responsible to anything, so suing them for damages I guess isn't an option. I'm totally outraged at this ploy of Mr. Cochran's. And worse, he knows, in this city, the jury will agree with him. So, we're to blame for encouraging people to Believe that drug dealing should not be on every block.

"In a letter sent to O'Malley on Nov. 26, Cochran said city police had failed to protect the family, but did not mention the campaign. The letter contended that the city would have done more for the Dawsons if they had been white or middle-class." I can testify that's not true. The city doesn't do enough for middle class white folks, either. I know, I am one. But I do believe they try.

So, we're to blame for when people murder each other because we encourage them not to.

If you can't meet your goals, lower them. What a concept. I should really have tried that here long ago. Could have been so much happier.

Everyone in this city should be outraged. If they're not just already outraged, which we have so many reasons to be.

Thank you, Mr. Cochran, for epitomizing the worst of the legal profession and for perpetuating the warped logic that lets murderers go free, whether they be football celebrities or drug dealers. Imagine if Cochran were defending the arsonist. "It's not his fault he killed an entire family as they slept. He couldn't help it. It's the impossibly high expectations of the city demanding he not sell drugs. That's what drove him to it."

Just my opinion, Mr. Cochran. Don't be bothered by it. I don't have anything worth suing me for.

On a similar note, I'm digusted to see the relatives of the dead 15 year old girl nosing about, looking for money from the city because it's the city's fault she was abused. "The social services programs failed." They did, but so did the relatives, first and foremost. If we have to pay them for the social service worker's oversights, then they should go to jail for not watching over their child.

Don't people understand that when they sue the city, they're suing us, all of us, each one of us who lives here? They're taking money not from some bottomless source, but right out of schools and police.

I'm going back to bed.

Wednesday morning, January 8, 3AM: Let there be light.

Just awakened by pounding on the door. Dogs in hysterics. "What is it now, what story will they have?" I was thinking, as I got on my bathrobe, pepper spray, phone and pistol.

Looked out the window and saw a police car. Then I saw one of my favorite officers stepping back to look up. We waved. He came around back to the substation.

"I called about eleven. I knocked on the substation door about midnight. I was getting worried. Sorry to have awakened you."

You can bet I assured him it was OK to wake me up. The only thing worse than worrying friends, is not having the friends to worry. I apologized for not hearing the phone. I had turned it off. Unlike me lately, I'd gone to bed early. I'm going back after I finish this. Apparently my insomnia has found its cure.

We spoke of my daffy neighbor, whom I hadn't been seen in a while and had asked about. "I did see her. She's howling at the moon. Looks OK. I asked her to go home."

Having a policeman know your habits and worry about you and your crack crazed neighbor is wonderful. Talk about community policing.

Delighted to see that BGE contractors working on the street lights. We made dozens of phone calls since Thursday night when they all failed to come on. Vaughn got irate with them. "This is not a single street light. It's all the street lights in a drug market!" The street lights make an amazing difference. They're back on all along Wilson Street, up our block and over on McCulloh, the very centers of our drug market, as we kept repeating to the clerks with the city and BGE.

No word on why the new street lights can't be lit yet, but first things first.

I have it on good authority Major Gutberlet will be attending the Community Law Center meeting on the subject of the crack house next door. This should be an effective meeting, based on the heavy hitter who'll be there. The whole subject is "how do we close down the crack house at 1704 Madison Avenue?" Perhaps there's hope for real progress.

And on that upbeat note, I'm going back to bed with a small, satisfied smile on my face. There are people out there who care about this neighborhood and me. Things can get better. Amazing what a few hours of good sleep can do to your mood.

Monday night, January 6th: Quiet day today. The government checks of the first are spent. Supervision by the SPS guards has been more obvious, too, quashing the few times I noticed groups of dealers starting to mill, at least near their building. The new snow and extra cold discourage them sometimes, though nothing discourages dealing on a weekend after the first. I see the guards out there now, chatting with a BPD officer.

My meeting with Richard about improving the situation at 1717-1715 and the rest of the neighborhood went well. Unlike Clarence Weston, the owner of 1704, I believe Richard's company wants to do the right thing. They participate, at least. I hope we can follow through and make some progress. I do think Crack Cam Live would be effective, and a hit. Maybe a new reality show on Fox.

There's an interesting story about the signage in the photo below. The plexi I used was in the house when we bought it. Saved it, pack rat that I am, thinking I could find a use for it one day. It used to be in a cabinet built above the shower stall in what is now the substation restroom just inside the door.

In that use, it served as the bottom of a mini greenhouse where we found three long fluorescent light tube holders suspended inches above several little seedling flats. Filled with soil still, they were devoid of any plant material at all. Not even a root. There were new cabinet doors and hardware, well constructed. There was reflective film on all the walls to make sure the grow light was intensified. The circuit was one of the best I've ever found in the house, properly wired with its own dedicated breaker.

In its previous use, the sign you see below was used in growing marijuana.

I was reminded of this when I heard someone asking a guy on the stoop of 1704 if he had the grass yet. I assumed it wasn't blue grass he was talking about.

I have no more objection to marijuana than alcohol but I find this little irony worth a smile. If one believes a house can have thoughts, I'm sure it never expected to see such a turnabout in its use. From crack house to police substation.

Sunday midnight, the start of January 6th:

substation door

The substation had a new transom sign put in night before last. The fruits of insomnia. I was expecting to have the neighbors call the police about the table saw going at 4AM. Then I realized you can't hear it very loud on the street. Needed to replace the temporary one so I could make it weathertight.

new transom sign

There's snow clinging to the letters today, but otherwise it looks pretty smart, I think. The signage was donated by
FastSigns, downtown on Charles Street. 410.783.1535. Thank you, Steve. I had the plexiglass and it was easy to apply the vinyl.

Today it earned its title. The substation was a "fixed post." During snow events, officers are assigned fixed positions around the city to improve response times.

Individuals make all the difference, don't they? You can't have a worthwhile organization without worthwhile members. Tonight, security at 1717-1715 Madison was much more conspicuous. I watched as a uniformed guard rotated his post around the building at various points. Different staff or different techniques, I don't know. Whatever, it helped. Most of the night the dealing has been confined to 1704. Even that's been relatively quiet, what with the snow and it being Sunday, after an exhaustingly busy weekend for the dealers.

Individual officers make a difference, too. At the end of last month there was a shift change. The first and second shifts rotate about every month. I have noticed considerably more patrols, more stops and improved response times around here during our prime dealing hours now. I suspect this has a lot to do with who's in charge too, which sergeant. Or perhaps they've been preoccupied with other areas, hopefully Pennsy and Laurens, which is even worse than our worst.

Monday morning I'm going to meet with Richard, who's with the management company for Pedestal Gardens, which includes the building across the street at 1715-1717. Hopefully, we can discuss ways to improve security at his building, hopefully including new strategies including cameras. He's also going to attend a meeting next week about community action against 1704, the crack house that plagues us all here.

Sunday morning, 2AM, January 5th: A first for my tenure here: Just watched someone throw rocks up to the third floor of the window at 1715 Madison. Same one often used as a lookout post, tenant's cell phone in hand. A few minutes later, a baggie or what looked like one, came out the window which was closed promptly. I didn't catch the payment process. Perhaps it was on a tab. That building has been busy all night. Don't know where the guards are.

I haven't seen them much tonight. At one point I even called their offices to ask where they were and was told one would be sent right over. From where? I think a call to the police would have been as or more effective. Response is not as much their purpose as deterrent. Perhaps they've tried undercover security guarding tonight. Is there a guard, or isn't there? Most of the dealers assumed the latter.

I know sometimes the guards get to thinking nothing much is happening and so walk away, not realizing that their presence is supposed to discourage dealing at the building they're charged with guarding. Like the police officers, I think some figure if they don't see it, it wasn't happening while they weren't looking. Security guards are supposed to be bored and conspicuous ... if you ask me. Police officers are much too conspicuous in those cars and uniforms ... if you ask me.

Most of the guards are well meaning, under paid guys whom I like. However, I have to take the view that if it isn't working, it's time to change something and try new approaches until something makes a real, lasting difference.

Another case for well placed cameras.

The street lights are still out. Even up McCulloh, parallel with Madison. That's over a dozen street lights out for three nights. Some officers this afternoon and evening are cruising through more often to help, I think.

Vaughn noticed what looked like a check point set up on Laurens off Eutaw midday yesterday. Officers were asking people cruising through where they lived and what they were doing at the entrance to our drug market. Seems like a solid, proactive step.

An officer told me that his sergeant has asked for more attention during church services, in response to calls. Perhaps someone at the big church on the block finally opened his eyes to the neighborhood and was embarrassed. It is absurd to see so many God fearing people cavorting and walking to and from their cars, oblivious to "greens out, greens out!" and obvious dealing and dealers. I'm convinced many feel it's a legit occupation forced by circumstances, OK so long as it doesn't happen out where I live and they leave us alone while we park here once a week.

I've heard a certain shift sergeant doesn't want his officers using the station. This is the same one I met some time ago who was belligerant, defensive and offensive all at the same time. "Which one of you said I supported this station. I never did." I replied "I've never met you, sir, so I'm sure we never said you supported the station. Besides, what's not to support? The station's here for a break and you're welcome to use it like the officers under you, just as Major Gutberlet has authorized." As Julie saw the other day, the officers use the station anyway. They all think quite poorly of this sergeant, as do I. He's part of the morale problem at BPD, more concerned with his territory and threatened by change, as are so many mid level managers.

There's another sergeant the officers think highly of. I'm sure it's no coincidence he's the one ranking officer who spent time upstairs watching the market the way we see it every day. And I heard a wonderful endorsement of Major Gutberlet the other day. "He's on the streets. He's often helped me make an arrest. Once he showed up well before anyone else when I called for assistance." Frequent readers here will recall I've had my doubts about the Major at times. Maybe he's just been too busy doing his job in charge of the Central District to deal personally with our specific concerns all the time.

I was told that dealing and trouble are "going off the wall" in Reservoir Hill. I'm sorry to hear that. I know some urban homesteaders up there are working hard and must be discouraged. Perhaps it's the effect of our efforts here herding the dealers to new areas, though I think in this case it's just more dealers homesteading new markets.

I suspect that if a market tried to root itself in Bolton Hill there'd be serious city hall action fast. Some of those residents go apoplectic about littering and car breakins, but are reluctant to turn on their porch lights, preferring to complain about a lack of streetlamps. "How can such things be allowed inside our borders?" Other Bolton Hillers do things like bring toilet paper in the pouring rain to a little police break room on the other side of that border. They're Baltimoreans first as we all should be, Bolton Hillers second.

Saturday morning, January 4: Just finished listening to WBAL AM Talk radio. You know, one of those venues where a know-it-all panders to emotions like hate and defeat. I don't like it at all and figure the only ones who listen are those incapable of forming their own opinions. Others enjoy the fray.

I wanted to hear the guest, and for the first time ever I called to talk to the listeners on a program featuring Adam Meister of
Techbalt and the concept of young urban pioneers getting together to colonize an abandoned block. I wanted to counter the several callers telling him he was looking at life through rose colored glasses and that nothing could be done to save the city. He is of course, seeing things with the ambition and confidence of youth. Thank God. If you don't look at it's potential, and focus only on its reality, there's no use looking at Baltimore.

Naturally, they didn't have time to air but 30 seconds of my comments before it was off to another guest and a more inflamatory topic. Still, I've heard other jibes at the city between commercials as I've left it on. The station and its listeners seem only interested in knocking the city, considering it merely a burden the rest of the state bears.

Suburbanites are irrelevant to the future of the city. They or their parents have given up or never consider being part of Baltimore except to play and work. Those who do look back must justify their abandonment and the problems it's created. When this radio program mentions Baltimore, it's usually these very people complaining.

The host said the only way he'd come back would be if there were guarantees offered by the city of safety and better education. I've heard this before. As if anyone can guarantee a real city as developers do those vanilla, cookie cutter "planned communities" growing like weeds all over the outlying countryside. Callers cited crime. Callers complained about Patricia Jessamy. They complained about city bureaucracy. Only one was a Baltimorean and he was complaining about how long it's taken him trying to save a block by himself, the very situation Techbalt addresses.

Unless people come to the city to improve the tax base, the voter base, the jury pool, how can things change? Homeowners "own" a city. Those who will wait until the city is better before they invest in it create the very problem they use as an excuse to stay away. No better than those irresponsible homeowners of vacant houses I bashed yesterday, the ones who wait until others have rebuilt a neighborhood so they can cash in.

On more mundane topics, please call BGE at 877.778.2222 and the city at 311 to report the series of street lamp outages on the 1700 block of Madison Avenue and along Wilson from Eutaw to McCulloh, the center of this crack market. Lots of people complain about a city street lamp being out on their block. I'm talking about a dozen, leaving my porch light and floodlamp the only lighting on my side and at the corner for the past two nights. Another call that would be appreciated is 410.396.1311 on Monday to ask the office of transportation why this was allowed to go on for so long and why the many new street lamps we've all just paid for on Madison Avenue are still waiting to be lit after nearly two months.

One guy was already shouting "greens out" at 9 this morning. I can hear one of the mothers from next door wandering about, babbling, high while conducting her own business. I don't hear "greens" right now, or the babble. An officer just drove through slowly on his was back out from using our restroom.

Friday, January 3, 10pm: Despite several calls, the street lights are still out, up and down our end of Madison Avenue and Wilson. Dealing has been busy between bouts of the sprinkles, especially at 1704. When the rain stopped a bit ago, not less than ten people walked in from all directions to get their goods. A call to 911 resulted in two squad cars spending a few minutes in front. The dealing had stopped since the sprinkles began again.

Was delighted early this morning to hear the acting police commissioner's assigned permanent foot patrols for the first time in ten years. Only two officers in each district, but it's a start. And he's reassigning administrative officers, not diverting car officers.

The news report said he wanted to return the department to "community policing," emphasizing service to the community, which I take as going back to getting to know the beat personally. Sounds exactly like what the
Sun spoke of in its editorial September 19th.

While I sympathize with officers being on foot patrol in this wintry weather (maybe we need more break stations?), there's no doubt to me it is effective. During the two weekly stints around here we enjoyed foot officers, I noticed a substantial reduction in street activity. I recall a couple officers taking a restroom break in the station joking about how surprised dealers are when they suddenly appear, without the warning a patrol car announces long before it arrives. Two of those officers on foot conducted the effective
mini sting on 1704 on the evening of November 8. It was because they were getting to know the beat and took advantage of a vantage point we'd offered since day one.

I have a suggestion. Surprised? The old police leadership seemed all about public relations and manipulating statistics, not unlike city hall itself. Perhaps if the emphasis now is going to be community policing, we don't need staff assigned to the "Community Relations" department for each district. It seems their only function is to deflect and absorb citizen complaints so they don't reach those in charge. Rather than assigning officers to
rehash holiday safety precautions and explain why the police can't do more at community association meetings, these officers would better be deployed on the streets themselves, doing police work. They're out of touch with what's happening in specific areas. How could they not be? They don't walk the beat.

I'd far rather have the officer who knows me and my street, the good from the bad neighbors, crack houses from safe houses, meet with our neighborhood groups. We could talk about the real problems, naming suspects and problem addresses, trading information ... being part of the same team.

Tomorrow morning Adam Meister, chief instigator and rabble rouser for the
Techbalt concept, will be on WBAL radio, 1090 AM, at 8:10. I believe the concept of banding together other like minded people to take over an abandoned block together is a great. I just wish there was more cooperation from city hall for the idea.

Rather than only pushing massive, expensive, high overhead solutions like Project 5000 that grab headlines, we should put in place means for individuals and small groups to take over the abandoned homes and vacant lots that plague our city. Whole neighborhoods could be built with a real sense of community this way. There are plenty of people who would be glad to live in the city if they could be safe and the process of buying a vacant house wasn't a bureaucratic nightmare. These people would bring their own financing and build their own sweat equity, too, not burden a town that can't pay its officers or teachers. If you're willing to take responsibility for a vacant house or lot, the city should find ways to give it to you, free. Perhaps a renewal of the $1 house program. Anything to return these places of death and decay back to life.

People who leave houses abandoned for too long should forfeit their rights. I would say this should include those who sit on houses while they deteriorate, hoping to ride the coattails of those with the guts and ambition to restore the neighborhood around them. This land speculation especially hampers the return of once great neighborhoods like Reservoir Hill. It's worse for the city than the flipping fraud.

Several people have applauded the idea of a webcam and surveillance. I'd sure like to put video of it back to the substation. The officers could comfortably wait and watch. As soon as they see the probable cause they need, they could radio their colleagues for the bust. Even when officers weren't there, the dealers would be worried. Sounds perfect. Alas, it's a matter of money. Just keeping up with this house has been a burden, let alone renovating it. One lesson I've learned that should be of interest to Techbalters and others interesting in rehabbing: you need guts, hard work and lots of money. Add to it a neighborhood that works against you and your challenges are more than doubled.

Thursday, January 2, 11:30pm: As tired as I am of the cold rain, and we're only a week or so into winter, it's a blessing tonight. The streetlamps have gone out at the corner between Wilson to McCulloh and even the one in front of our house.

night crawlers at NIMROD

Now it's pitch black where these dealers lurk, here shown in a night picture when the street light is working. I only see one possible dealer there right now. It's almost freezing and there's light rain blowing around. You can bet I've called to report it and told the Central District duty sergeant about it. Neither rain nor snow, nor gloom of night discourage these guys from their rounds, especially near the first of the month.

Fortunately, the street lights in the back alley and our 250w flood are still going or I'd be freaking. I remember one night two summers ago when BGE advised us we were going to be without power for a few hours. It was a long few hours.

lamp installed November 7

Maybe the crews will take the time to light the new street lamps installed over the fall along Madison. I was told there was an expensive study which determined the avenue above the elementary school needed more street lamps to discourage dealing and prostitution. Good thinking. Over three months they installed three new ones on our block alone. They've been in for nearly two months. They have yet to be lit. I was thinking of running an extension cord.

Thursday, January 2, 8:30pm: Dealing has been steady all afternoon. A couple of the officers have rousted them a few times. Lasts about three minutes.

A reporter is coming on Saturday night. No doubt it'll be a busy night's dealing. The government checks are coming out. Might be another story about our efforts. I don't know about the value of it. Sometimes I think the recognition we got from the dealers after the big story in the paper wasn't a good thing.

I'm hoping to get together with the management of the Pedestal Gardens building at 1715 to put together a camera surveillance system. If properly designed, using durable fakes to draw the fire, so to speak, and inconspicuous real ones, I think it could last and be a huge deterrent.

Mr. Douglas of the funeral home around the corner has found his system does help discourage them. Especially the camera nearest the elementary school. He reports that one disturbed them so much one day a kid was paid to bounce his basketball into it until it was broken. Ours was knocked out of the window by rocks last summer while I was working in the substation. I clearly recall watching the dealer drive through the alley real slow to make sure I wasn't in front to see them.

Police management doesn't seem to like private surveillance cameras any more than the dealers. Mr. Douglas has offered his camera's vantage point, covering four angles. The drug squad apparently can't use private surveillance tapes. And, like my third floor window, doesn't want to see the problems and players for themselves from our vantage points. The only ones who've taken us up on it have been a few of our diligent beat officers, looking to make a difference.

Still, the dealers don't like cameras. I think they'd like it even less if we broadcast it on the web. Something I'm hoping we can afford to do. A sergeant was very disturbed by Mr. Douglas offering his tapes to ABC's Nightline news magazine. Imagine if we put out a web address, "Baltimore's Crack Cam Live."

Could backfire. For some, a live webcam would be like a commercial. I've often thought I should mount a red neon blinking light on 1704 so people know where to go. Maybe a huge searchlight. I don't like being awakened at 3AM by people searching for a high, too confused to understand they're one door off. This happened again last night. "No, she does not live here. No, I'm sure. You want next door." They shuffle next door in a crazed daze, only to come out again minutes later with a smile.

It still amazes me when I realize that of two dozen people on the street in this block a bit ago, probably most were involved in buying or selling or both. Often there are more than a dozen cars out front, too, some idling. Only four belong to homes on this block. The culture of crack here is so routine, so blatant and matter of fact.

The Community Law Center is organizing a meeting this month about the problem buildings on this block. They have been very effective with legal action against crack houses and slums in town, including an unusually conspicuous one a block up the street where it's incredibly nicer, if you overlook the prostitutes milling in the shadows. Perhaps an alliance can be put together to buy the tax lien next door and force the
slumlord (who also happens to work for the city) out along with his dealing tenants.

At the suggestion of readers, we're going to accept donations via PayPal. This will be the first time we've accepted cash donations, but several have wanted to help who can't provide specific things. It would help too with things like the donations for the paving fund so we can keep better track of the balance. I don't think it'll raise a lot of money given the economy, but frankly we could use the help. Donations of supplies are greatly appreciated, but irregular, leaving us shopping often. And heating the station is costing at least $100 extra a month. Things like "Baltimore's Crack Cam Live" could be costly, too.

PayPal will allow us to accept payments via credit card or checking account. Signing on is free and easy. All donations will be used directly to support the substation. They will not be tax deductible, as we have not yet formed a qualifying organization.



We don't want to charge the officers for coffee and snacks and such. They don't make enough money. And they seem to appreciate this little oasis so much, especially on cold wet nights like this. And we will appreciate your making it easier for us to convey this thanks.

Have you read about their starting salaries? Even with the recent raise, it's pretty bad. And I will never understand why anyone would choose to do it, which is why I understand Baltimore being a training ground for other departments, often losing the best of our foot soldiers. The most important things the government can provide are safety and education. And we're not doing either very well in Baltimore.

While writing this, things have slowed outside. Only because of the cold and icy sprinkles. Still, anyone can wander into the building next door and buy whatever they want 24/7. The Pedestal building, across the street at 1715, isn't contributing to the problem so much tonight. Perhaps because the private security people are doing their jobs. I've seen them out and about.

New Year's Day, 2003:

Watched the fireworks over the harbor from the roof. Surprisingly good view. Fortunately, there were no fireworks around here as there were July 4 when the houses on Eutaw caught the Roman candles.

I admit it. I've spent most of the day nursing a hangover. For someone with a horrible headache, I'm in a surprisingly good mood. I'm glad the holidays are behind us. Time to get back to work.

Thanks to those many who've written to ask me to keep up the site. I have to admit that my achy back has not helped my mood these past few weeks. Sometimes I think I should threaten to give up more often. Usually when I do good things happen that keep me from it.

The BPD had a shift change Sunday. The first and second shifts rotate every 28 days. Graveyard is always the same staff. All of a sudden I noticed more aggressive policing around here. A neighbor said the same thing. On Sunday afternoon I noticed an officer talking with loiterers at 1704 on two different occasions. Spoke to an officer later who told me they always complain that it's their right to sit on the stoop. "It is. But it is not their right to sell crack."

I worry about giving up our civil rights in the name of a war on terror. I do not worry about curtailing people's rights to loiter at street corners and doorways especially when they don't live there. I used to have a hard time being down on the people next door hanging out on their stoop in the summer. Their tiny, filthy apartments have no circulation. Still, almost always when they're on the stoop next door, they're selling. I watch it all the time.

Seems like there should be an ordinance about loitering, especially in well known drug markets like this. Perhaps that's something our city council could do, rather than trying to direct foreign policy or dictate a happy face for writers whose depictions of Baltimore are too accurate. If I were a member of the city council, I'd be embarrassed too.

All this rain has found every single leak in the main house. Again, the substation is the nicest room here. The roof over it was completely rebuilt summer before last. I suspect our drought is over. The earth has its cycles, doesn't it? Just got to have patience and perseverance. I'm sure there's a lesson there somewhere.

Julie came by with a big bag of toilet paper. One less thing on my shopping list. I do so appreciate such practical donations. Her timing was good. Three officers were having Chinese take out, trying to dry off. I hope it was gratifying for her to see them. I have the good fortune of seeing the smiles and hearing the thank yous often.

As hard as it is to believe, while the officers were having their suppers, I watched two cars pull up to buy at 1704. I don't disturb the officers when they're taking a break anymore. Not for anything so commonplace as a crack deal. When these officers leave, they'll cruise past 1704 and if someone's being obvious, they'll stop. Just their presence interrupts it, if only for a moment.

So, I guess I'm not ready to retire my Internet soap box yet. Thanks again for reading and asking me to stick with it. I hope 2003 is good to you and yours. Maybe this year will be the one when things change on Madison Avenue. We can hope.

click here for archive index