Journal Entries for November, 2004
click here for archives of previous entries

morning, November 24: Thank you for the emails asking for my entry about the ridealong. I meant to write sooner, but got busy. Though some property managers and drug dealers might disagree, I do have a life.

I thought I would be bored by the Ridealong. A dog and pony show to keep busy body neighborhood squakers like me busy. Not that way at all.

Got partnered with a fine young officer I've known from the substation and the drug market for at least two years. He's working a beat just north of us now that includes Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill, but they don't observe territories. They go where they're needed. Saturday night he also worked the notorious corner of Pennsy and Laurens because someone was out that shift. That's the place in the Central District. The place where any hour of the night or day one can get anything in the way of illegal drugs. You can get in all sorts of other trouble there, too. And many do. Just three blocks west of me and four blocks west of Bolton Hill.

We had a few interesting calls, though the officers apologized for how slow it was, due to rain. One was a return visit to a woman whose had her share of a common Bolton Hill plague: car breakins. Kids have been prying open her doors. The week before it was her Jeep. This time it was the van of her older son. He'd gone off to the movies and left it in her parking place behind her town house. In a very dark alley where very few people think about the value of turning on a porch light. A common problem here. (I guess a few bucks a month in electricity to discourage criminals is too much to ask.)

Her son installs cable TV free lance. To do so he needs tools and cable. In his window van, in plain view were two huge spools of cable, (about $150 at Home Depot), some hand tools and a shiny painter's ladder ($100). The type I've often seen walking down my alley. "Hey, mister, need a good ladder, or this drill. I'll sell 'em cheap."  I really have to say to those in Bolton Hill: "Wake up, you live in the inner city. Your neighborhood is surrounded on at least three sides by drug ghettos. Until you realize you don't live on an enchanted island and try to help solve the problems around you, it won't be getting better. I would have said her son was asking for it and then complaining when it happens, but that wasn't my place. The officer was quite compassionate and gently made a few suggestions about taking in the valuables, not leaving them in plain sight. Common sense. I would have patronized. He simply offered good advice as if an old friend.

Anyway, her younger son heard the kids breaking in and went out to chase them off. One of them left his coat and a glove. The Mom brought the coat in. My "partner" for the night asked if she'd looked though it. She had not. He said "good," and proceeded to go through the pockets. I asked how good his gloves were. "Not as good as they probably should be." Anyway, he found some papers and said "wouldn't it be great if they had his name and address." I commented it likely didn't matter. The parents are as criminal as the car breakers. Alas, the papers did not have a name.

It was the villains third grade math homework. "Third grade home rooom" was crudely marked on it in sticky pencil.

The rain got worse and we figured street problems would be slow. Suddenly, I saw the officer crane to hear his radio. I stopped chattering. It was a "code one." We got to use the lights and siren and run red lights and everything. I put my seat belt on (he'd reminded me twice to buckle up. I feared he'd write me a citation. <g>. It wasn't as much fun as I thought. We passed many Baltimoron drivers. Two with no headlights. Others oblivious to blue and red lights, horns and siren. We got to "turn into the skid" a couple times. Would have been no loss, the squad car we were in was already a wreck.

We pulled up, first to arrive, at a retirement home. A resident had called in a report of a shooting. "We take shooting reports very seriously, of course." I got that impression from our haste at getting there and marveled at the risks of weighing your own and other's safety en route versus what might be happening at the scene. As I waited outside 'cause they thought it might not be a place for a civilian, I felt the rear tires. You would have plainly seen Lincolns head. They were bad. Four other squad cars and Central District Major Skinner all arrived at the same moment, then a fire truck and ambulance.

False alarm. Apparently the shooting was reported by someone out of touch with reality. A dozen emergency personnel sped to the scene, ready to save a life and get a gun man, only to find it was a false alarm.

At one point an undercover officer came up to us while my officer was writing a report. Turned out he'd spotted a deal go down and the participants were still in their car. We hailed another marked car and sped up on the parked car. I noticed there was no hesitation as the officer jumped from his car, ran to the window, putting his hand on his gun where he ordered them to put their hands up and opened the door. Just then the other unit sped up and together the two officers took the suspects out of the car. One did not follow orders and found himself laying on the ground. The other ridealonger and I watched. Fortunately, they had the goods. Not a false alarm. In the crotch or "dip" of one of the suspects.

Toward the end of my "shift," I offered to buy dinner for my partner as a thank you for his patience in answering my questions and his honesty and frankness. He tried to decline but I said you choose the place. We had sandwiches at a little hole in the wall on Mt. Royal. When I paid, the proprietor rounded down our dinner to $10. I think he comped the drinks or such. I said "I didn't expect the policeman discount." "He probably thinks you're a detective." I puffed out my chest to look as Dick Tracy like as possible. The officer said "some guys like to to do that." I said it reminded me of the cliché Irish cop on the beat, swinging his nightstick, taking a free apple from the fruit vendor. I said, "actually, it's just a version of our substation. Some of us appreciate you."

It was a good night. I came away from it with even more pride and respect for our officers and what they do every day and night.

When I was dropped off at the substation, we came in to find a case of assorted small chips and two flats of bottled waters. Vaughn told me Susan had some by. Thank you Susan. The officers have thanked me a few times already for both.

The new lock is installed. Now, the officers need only unlock it and it'll close right behind them without having to take that extra few moments to lock the deadbolt. From what I saw Saturday night, there are times they take an extra few lost seconds seriously. I've seen them pull out of the parking space very fast sometimes, lights going. I'm sure there are times when I would take those extra few seconds seriously too.

Friday morning, November 19: A daily ritual ...

setting up shop for the day

Setting up shop for the day at 1715-1717 Madison Avenue, the Pedestal Gardens crack superstore. The conversation was about what corner to work from. The inventory stays in the Pedestal Gardens building. Dealers just walk back to reup. Of course the firedoors are open. There are no cameras. No security. Good of management to continue to provide a perfect place for dealers to operate.

And to think I imagined that if we could only close down the crack house next door here, which we did last year, the whole block would turn around 'cause there'd be no place left for them to operate from. But then security at Pedestal Gardens was better, not the sham it is most of the time now.

Had to take out the line at the top of the page that spoke about reading earlier month's entries and "Those entries were very much different thanks to big changes here." Well, we've changed back from what I see out my window. Just some different dealer tactics.

November 18, 10am: Last night, about dusk, saw the three SPS security guards hanging out next to 1715, shooting the breeze. First time I'd seen them in a long while. It was good to see them. Of course, they were together. Doesn't seem to occur to them that they need to patrol on their own to leverage their number, connected by our fancy radios for their security. Their job is not a social club. HUD probably thinks the extra money on extra guards is well spent. But not the way these guards spend their time. I just don't know what happened. Neither do the city police or the other neighbors. They used to be so on top of it. I like these guys individually, it's just I don't see them making any difference at all most of the time. I don't see them most of the time for that matter, and the dealers don't see 'em either. That's the problem.

Someone left a nasty entry in the guestbook defending the guards this morning. Could be the owner of SPS, a real ass (he's certainly no friend of Pedestal Gardens or those who live near), or one of the guards. Don't know. Don't care. It was a bogus email address of course. As with anyone who isn't man or woman enough to stand behind their comments, I just hit a key and deleted it. Thrown out like the garbage his or her comments were. I'm not interested in defending the guard's work, or lack thereof. All I care about is a safe neighborhood. And these guys are not a part of that solution now so I'd say they're a part of the problem. Just like the irresponsible property management that's full of excuses and short on solutions.

Riding with an officer Saturday night as part of the Central District's ride along day. We'll go to role call at 3pm and then go out in the cruisers with the officers. Major Skinner tells me he'll assign me to an officer near here. Wants me to see things from their perspective. Perhaps because I'm always so full of suggestions for their deployment. Many would agree I'm full of it.
<g> Vaughn went along the last time and enjoyed it a lot. Thought it was very informative. He's going to stay home that night to keep the watch. The house is rarely alone and of course never without its watch dogs. Looking forward to getting out. Even if it's just to ride along on a real episode of Cops. I hate that show almost as much as The Wire, though I find myself watching both too often.

Very disappointed with the school. Seems they're unable to take down and put up the flag we got them anymore. It just hangs there, night and day, seven days a week. Already looking rather dirty. By winter's end, it'll be in tatters. Sad comment on the school's management, if you ask me. Or perhaps it's a protest against a government that gives lip service to "no child left behind" without providing money to make it happen. The same federal government that thinks everyone should be allowed to put their kids in private school with a tax break. Every wealthy person, that is. Same problem we have with the Fed's demands to clean up sewage systems and to secure our city against terrorism: demand compliance without providing the means. We can sacrifice 1215 soldiers, print money, run up a huge deficit all to destroy and then rebuild a country on the other side of the world, but we can't fix our own cities. Amazing.

November 16, 5pm: Saw one of my favorite sights out my front door yesterday afternoon: a Baltimore Police paddy wagon loading up suspects. Two unmarked cars and plain clothes officers congratulating themselves, "high fiving" each other. It was good to see. Kinda sad I'd say that, but my smile was ear to ear.

The paddy wagon and officer's cars were parked smack dab in the middle of the vacant lot and southern parking lot of 1715-1717 Madison, to the right in this picture ...

1715-1717 Madison Avenue
same place where the kids like to play between their apartments and the NIMROD Center.

Obviously not a smart idea to post a picture of the event. <g>

As has by now become expected, no Pedestal Gardens security personnel to be seen. Perhaps they've snuck past my watchful eyes. None today either, though the dealers have been sulking along, back and forth out of this building as usual. They just can't stay away. Too useful to them, both for stashing product and housing customers.

I'm sure the dealers were surprised as I was by the targeted action of the city police yesterday. They'll no doubt be looking over their shoulders more ... for a day or two. Soon enough, they'll go back to considering themselves untouchable, above the law. As do the landlords of Pedestal Gardens. Clarence thought that, too. Naturally, the longer you get away with something, the more you think you can. Rather like complacent, absent, ill supervised security guards. And the dealers Pedestal Gardens supports consider themselves immortal, too, as do most teenagers and 20 somethings. Therein lies the danger to everyone.

The lights continue to burn brightly at 1715-1717. Grateful for that and the fact they're keeping the dumpster empty now, reliably. A good thing. Heard the TV's been removed from the apartment the PG security people use to hide from their patrol duty. That's good, too. But such "no brainer," minimal choices are a long way from it being a responsibly supervised building.

An officer told me last night that there've been a couple more shootings around here. More than what I wanted to ask? The acceptable number? Shootings often mean more murder victims. Few aim to maim, that's just the innocents caught in the crossfire. I'm sure the new Commissioner's prime directive is "keep the murder rate down at all costs. Year end is coming." A statistic driven young mayor wants to arrest the spiraling murder rate for altruistic reasons I'm sure, and for political reasons, you bet. Never had a problem with an ambitious politician wanting to use our city to build a resume of accomplishment to fuel his political career. So long as that accomplishment is real.

The American death toll for the invasion of Iraq reached 1200 this afternoon
. Countless tens of thousands dead among those we're attempting to "free" as well. I realize now this carnage is not the important thing to slightly more than half of American voters, but it continues to shock me. While I'm profoundly moved at the courage and sacrifice of our soldiers, I don't feel any safer for it as we live back here in Baltimore where thousands and thousands are lost to a war only slightly more futile, badly managed and ill advised.

November 13, noon: Finally caught a couple of city officers in the substation last night as they ate their carryout lunch. Asked them about why none have called for the new keys. They said "we were just talking about that, about to call." They explained there really is no place like this on their beat. Nothing private. Rite Aid likes to call theirs a "substation" but it's really just the "privilege" to use the employee restroom. And that's no great privilege. Another officer I've known for years now came in and said the same. "There's really no place for a lady to use a restroom in this sector. Nothing clean." Another officer came in and added "I"d be downtown writing out this accident report if not for this place." Apparently most had just not seen the signs in the substation. Gave them all keys to the new lock. All were pleased that it was now being restricted to Baltimore City Officers.

Alas, I won't be moving into the substation anytime soon. It's theirs. <g> You know I'm just happy to know it's used. Vaughn and I will always work around and maintain that space so long as officers want to use it. It was really good to decide about that. The substation is used and appreciated by officers. Period. I'll have to turn my ambitions to other areas of the house. A good thing, as Martha would say ... from prison.

November 10, 7pm: Dealing has been brisk from the corner of the NIMROD Center and at the steps of 1717 Madison Avenue. Apparently, I'm not the only one calling it in, though I'm certain the good folks at NIMROD and the church on the other corner that owns it never call in dealing or prostitution. I've heard the whoo hoo, whoo hoo signal a few times already this afternoon. Lots of loud yelling, loitering all over the PG complex. Cars and even a huge dump truck (a regular after work) stopping for a few moments, just long enough to hand something back and forth or run in and out. Some of it is innocent, no doubt, but anyone conscious knows exactly what's going on here ... again.

Speaking of unconscious, no Pedestal Gardens security personnel to be seen at all, of course. And I've been watching.

A while back, PG management proposed a fence in front of the building, on the Madison side. Unfortunately, that idea was long ago discounted by police. Often, I've heard officers complain about the Section 8 housing complex at Park and North Avenue and what a haven it is for dealers and a danger to officers because of its maze of fencing. In the case of PG, it was proposed to show "effort" on their part, of course using more HUD money.
It would take sincere concern and real management to do what's necessary: make the very expensive taxpayer paid security service do its job or find a service that will. I've given up hoping for that.

November 10, 11am: Mayor O'Malley, in what we hope is his infinite wisdom, has fired Commissioner Clark this morning. Hmmmmm. Wonder what that will mean for us all. He sure seems to have trouble choosing and keeping good Commissioners.

Instability in top police management can't be good news at all.

Under Commissioner Clark, we almost immediately noticed an improvement in this block, including his visiting here even before being confirmed, to hear first hand from us and the neighbors what was going on. There was an increase in patrol activity, in Flex Team (dedicated plain clothes teams) work and simply more effective policing. I hope that will not change. I hope the Deputy Commissioner keeps Major Skinner, whose been very effective and "on the job."

With the mounting failure of Pedestal Gardens management threatening to slide us completely back to where we were, we must rely on the continued proactive work of the city police. No property owner or manager has the right to create or allow excessive burdens on city resources and on its neighbors. It's very time consuming, but certainly not impossible, to force a landlord, however big or small, to be responsible or suffer the consequences. Look at Clarence Weston.

It does appear that we will be closing the substation at this point. This morning found the entry door unlocked. I doubt it was a city officer, but it verifies my concern that at the very least we must change the locks. I'm not sure that many officers are using it regularly to make it worthwhile anymore. I've heard from one officer they have a new facility on North Avenue, not far. Another has said maybe it's my politics, opinions and/or incessant observations on the website, though I can't imagine how that matters to someone taking his lunch break or flushing a toilet. Still another said there were some vacations and injuries.

I'm mixed on this. Don't care if some people don't like my politics or opinions or observations. At least I'm honest and direct about them. I know for sure the Pedestal Gardens Crack Community, neither the dealers,  the "security" firm or the management, (all part of the PG problem) like my observations at all. Not since I've had little good to observe there anymore except good lights and an empty dumpster.

I would regret closing the substation for the few long time users. In fact, if there's a way to share it, I'll let them have keys to continue using it, if they like.

We can use the space. It's the nicest in the house still. We went to great lengths to finish it before anything else here because, as long time readers know, it seemed something we could do. And something had to be done. Still don't know for sure. I'll give it some more time before deciding for sure. Perhaps now is time to do something else to improve the block. We seem good at closing crack houses. I can think of a big target.

November 7, 10am: Security around the 1715-1717 building has been virtually nonexistent for hours on end lately. Slower dealer traffic through that building seems more the result of rain or cold nights than people doing their jobs. That's the only reason I'm looking forward to our first freezing night, that may be tomorrow.

Still the property management company does nothing. The security company does even less. Seems the new security  "supervisor" is good friends with the on site property manager. Knows how to kiss ass real well. And since she obviously doesn't care about the building over here or even the dealing in the courtyard when she's not here, Pedestal Gardens continues to slide right back to what it was. The hard fought progress lost.

Dedicating an apartment in 1715 for their use seemed like a good idea. So did the radios for that matter. But neither has had the intended result. In fact the apartment seems to have backfired. Since the dealers know which guard is on and the fact that most of them do minimal patrol, it's no deterrent at all to have them in there.

Banning the security guards from the police substation over here doesn't seem much of a hardship for them. They just have to buy their own coffee and snacks and can't mooch off us anymore. (City police officers have never eaten everything in one shift.) Too many of them don't know the difference between a break and living in that apartment. I guess it makes a lot of sense to Joyce that they have a TV and Comcast cable (read bitter sarcasm). I wonder how many premium channels they get? ESPN perhaps? That explains a lot. You'd think they'd have learned our lesson: A TV is too much a temptation for less than responsible officers. I kicked two city officers out of the substation when they watched a total of at least 4 hours of football one Sunday during an eight hour shift. Reported them to their Major who agreed perhaps the TV wasn't such a good idea. That was the only time time in two years I've ever had any trouble with city officers. The rest all use it for ten or twenty minutes max. But even amongst Baltimore's finest there had to be a couple bad apples.

I call the PG guys security guards now, rather than Pedestal Gardens Police because that's what they have become. Every bit the caliber of guard you'd expect at a bowling alley. They're not all that way and they're not that way all the time, but consistency and reliable work are more than lacking. The results speak for themselves.

It's very sad. But we won't let it stand this way.

Readers wrote to tell me that sidewalks in the city are the responsibility of the homeowner. I knew that but have been informed twice that if the damage is determined to be from the tree, it is the city's tab. Twice in three years they've said it was the tree. Of course, I don't know how a homeowner should be responsible for the concrete sidewalk in front of his house, beyond shoveling it. Perhaps we should be responsible for our part of the street too? What are those property taxes for? I don't use it. The school kids and drug dealers do. But I really wouldn't mind if the dealers tripped over the broken concrete and broke a leg or worse. Would keep them out of commission for a bit. I'd enjoy explaining to the Leviness, Tolzman and Hamilton attorney what their client was doing when he fell on "my" sidewalk.

November 4
, 1:30pm: Bought the new lock. Been keeping track of the substation use. Really toying with the idea of shutting it down if more officers won't be using it, but I've come up with this:

"Officers: The lock is going to be changed soon. If you'd like to continue using this place, please call me so we can get you a new key."

It's more than time to change the lock. Too many keys out there. And the new one locks when you close the door. Also, this way I'll know for sure if the place still matters to the officers.

Flex Team is having lunch back there right now. Motorcycle cop just drove up. Perhaps it was a spike in crime and the nice weather that had them too busy to take even a brief break here. I noticed yesterday the dealers were out in force at 1715-1717 and along Madison Avenue and down next to the Pedestal Gardens courtyard at Mosher and Madison. It was a pretty day for drug dealing. Certainly no Pedestal Gardens officers to be seen when I went out about five, though I saw his car parked right in front of their apartment.

Now that it's raining, I see no dealers out, of course, and no doubt except for traffic accidents, the officers' day is slow. Good. I like that about snow and rain. I guess I'll have to keep the substation open. Drats! I was thinking I would have the best room in the whole house to myself. <g>

The reelection of Mr. Bush was a disappointment to me of course. I doubt we'll see any more help for Baltimore than we have. No, we're too busy "helping" a broken country half a world away to help a city a few miles from the White House.

I'm sure I'll hear for another four years that:

The collapsed water meter cover in back of this house and the impossibly broken up sidewalk in front can't be fixed right now. I'm not on Keiffer Mitchell's block where the sidewalks are immaculate and Keiffer's only concern is the new concrete doesn't match the old.

I'm sure our schools will continue to be an embarrassment, though not the private schools, oh no.

We'll continue to see broken mains, sinkholes, a decrepit city's infrasture rotting away. And a Federal government that forces the current residents of a city to pay the huge price for it's rebuilding. A government elected mostly by those who live in the suburbs or countryside and those very residents who abandoned Baltimore over many years. Those who never look back except with disdain.

There's not enough money to pay enough policemen a decent wage or to avoid being put on hold when you dial 911. (
That is an interesting coincidence: 911 is for emergencies like the infamous 9/11. Dah. Never thought of that before.) Not enough cops to stop this neighborhood from being crack and heroin central.

In matters big and small, it'll continue to be tough to live in the real Baltimore.

Went out to find someone had scratched bad words on the hood of my old pickup. Parked right next to the officer's parking for the substation. Wonder if it was any of the dealers I've referred to here. Beautiful cursive cursing if you discount the nastiness of the words. A quick brush with some steel wool and they're hard to see now. That's why I have an old pickup. I don't worry about it. Couldn't see who did it on the video. They must have snuck up, crouched low, concealed by the hood of the truck like the vermin they are. Still, it led me to say "slightly over half the country doesn't care about the people who live here and the people who live here, too many of them, hate me for what I've done here." Not a happy realization. Makes me ask yet again "Why bother? Why not cut your losses and run."

I suppose not yet.

Sent an email to the Mayor this morning:

"You Honor:

If it matters, I support Commissioner Clark. The man is innocent until proven guilty. And he's done fine work. I've seen better policing here. Not enough, but surely better.

I don't know why a man's personal life seems more important than his work, in politics. Makes no sense to me. I didn't care who Clinton slept with, I just wanted him to do good work. I don't care if Mr. Clark has had arguments with women in the past, I just want him to do good work.

Same as I said about you when I told you I'd heard the stupid rumor about your philandering.

This is exactly why I could never be in politics. ...

...Thank you for your continued good work.

1708 Madison Avenue"

His reply just in:

Thanks Bryan, not just for your continuing support of
our efforts in this administration, but also for your fair and just
attitude toward public servants in general.
There's a nasty atmosphere which provokes unfounded
personal attacks completely undeserved by most targets
of the attacks.
I'm grateful for your understanding, and for your support
of the Commissioner.
Martin O'Malley

It has to be clerk or two who do his emails, doesn't it? But I like to think he really is that good at keeping up with his constituents.

Election Day, 11am: This dispatch just in from the front lines of the war for good leadership in our country ...

This Morning's Poll Experience
An interesting walk to my local poll this morning. Living almost directly across the street from your polling place is very convenient. That is, if you're interested in the whole elections process. My experience this morning tells me that a lot of people were interested today.
When I last voted in our primary 14 odd months ago, there were at least a dozen or more campaign volunteers handing out flyers, stickers and such. I spoke to a few of them and asked why they were supporting their candidates and causes. I remember they were all very passionate about who they were campaigning for.
Today, there were only two campaigners out there. They were handing out Mitchell flyers. I accepted a flyer and asked them why they were supporting Mitchell. They both looked at me kind of quizzically and said "What do you mean?" I asked "What has councilman Mitchell done for your community, why do you support him?" They're answer was "I don't know". They took my flyer back out of my hand. My guess is they were getting paid. I guess it's what 'Walkin around money' is for.
When I went inside the Eutaw Marshburn Elementary School, I was pleasantly shocked. During the primary I went in and immediately voted. Today, there were at least 60 people in line ahead of me. I am really encouraged to see such a turnout in my own neighborhood. It was a rather long wait. There were a number of voters who had trouble reading the ballots, not because the machines were confusing or the type was too small, but because as the record shows, almost 40 percent of the residents in Baltimore City are functionally illiterate. The poll judges were very helpful and patient with every voter. They read and explained every vote and bond and charter issue to voters who needed help. No one in line was rude or impatient and a few elderly people who had trouble standing for a long time, were allowed to go to the head of the line.
All in all a very encouraging experience. I really do believe you can only make a difference if you start in your own backyard or across the street and let it carry on by your neighbors and others who see a difference being made.
Tonight we'll see the outcome. So as my brother says, Kerry On!

Vaughn's referring to an email exchange I had with the Mayor a few days back in which I voiced some concern about our Mayor being in the Midwest to campaign for Kerry. Then I realized this city, the whole nation, needs leadership from the White House, not ill conceived wars that distract our people, killing and maiming thousands, while the enemy chastises us on TV. I told him to "Kerry On." His reply was ...

"Good one - Kerry on
And you bet it's in our best interest - we're still looking for homeland security money 3 years later, never mind help with seniors, education, drug treatment, homeless, etc.

Oh, to the anonymous zealots who try to abuse my guestbook: Get your own website. There's plenty of mindless reactionary right, fascist, Nazi garbage on the Internet. You're wasting your vitriol here. It just gets deleted.

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