Journal Entries for September, 2003
(most recent first)
click here for archive index of previous entries
Sunday, 9/28, 2pm: I've been playing amateur police dispatcher since we rented the radios for the PGP. It makes me privy to most of their day. Keeps me up way too late sometimes. Sometimes it's boring, like about three this morning when I played name that tune with one of the guys. Other times it's tense, as when a lone PGP officer is in a staring match with a dozen dealers, both saying "this is my territory" or when a nearly breathless officer is running, asking me to send city police for backup. Since moving here, I've never really needed to watch Cops or any other reality crime show. I really won't mind when they have their direct connection to the city police and they don't need me anymore. I won't mind being the blissful citizen, ignorant of the mini dramas police officers participate in every day.
The dealers continue to play chicken with officers across Madison on the 15 and 1400 blocks. When they go elsewhere on their rounds, the dealers just move right into the courtyard of the apartments. When PGP comes back, they move across the street, assuming they're out of range. I will be following up on my email to Druid Heights Community Development Corporation about the dealers squatting in their buildings, running a bangup business. We must close these crackhouses!
Friday night, at the main complex of Pedestal Gardens, a pizza delivery driver was robbed at gunpoint, relieved of his pizza and cash and tied up. PGP officers found him wandering the grounds after he'd freed himself. Just earlier had been an assault and robbery so the city police were already on the grounds. Such luck. <g>
1715-1717, the Pedestal Gardens building on our block, has been much quieter. There are still a couple apartments where certain residents seem to be, shall we say, sympathizers of the drug gangs, but mostly it's much better. Certainly, 1704 remains closed up tight and there are no other buildings here with negligent owners anymore, so it's much harder to do business.
Yesterday, while I was talking with one of the PGP officers, asking his status, I was told that a neighbor from Eutaw Place was there, asking for a meeting with the Pedestal Gardens Police, concerned about the noise from the Mr. Softie ice cream truck and "all these kids." He wants meetings with anyone foolish enough to give him the time. He's so ridiculous. Hoping he was standing there as I spoke, I told the PGP officer to advise him that the ice cream truck was not PGP concern, he should take that up with the city council, and that children playing is a far better noise than "greens out, get your greens here!" That guy has got to just move to the country. He lives in the middle of the city for God's sake. He's the same one who insists to the Community Law Center and anyone else who'll listen that nothing's better around here, that the people who live in Pedestal Gardens are all drug dealers and generally bad people, that they're attacking him constantly and ruining his life. Such BS.
Back to real issues: Crime does seem to be up around here lately and not just dealing. I watched Law and Order the other day and it opened with the case of a serial car jacking rapist. They could have been writing about here. In a three block radius, we've had a nasty car jacking and a violent rape recently, along with several muggings and car and house burglaries. Readers living in the area should be extra careful. Perhaps it's the improved weather we've had. I don't know. Just be careful. Remember, this is the inner city, regardless of the progress we've enjoyed this year.
Readers brought to my attention a letter to the City Paper Editor remarking that this site should have been "the best online addiction," meaning website to read. I didn't know there was a competition. I checked out the website that won. It's just a personal web log. Someone's rants and raves and opinions on everything from his boss to movies and toothpaste. It amazes me that so many feel their lives are interesting to others. I suppose some have the appeal of soap operas. So many of them now. People with no concern for privacy, sometimes showing the same lack of dignity that makes Jerry Springer so popular.
I suppose some might say this is a "blog," too, but I don't see it. I may have cried and ranted here, but the purpose has never been to proclaim my self-importance or to pretend that you're interested in my personal life. Believe me, it's just as dismally boring as that you read in most of those personal blogs. The only purpose here has been to chronicle the challenges of living in one Baltimore neighborhood, to make it real to those who might not understand otherwise. But being a with it, happening guy, be watching here for my movie review listings, toothpaste preferences and dating advice columns. <g> I'll be selling banner ad space to viagra retailers soon.
I hear Paul is making good progress on his new rehab house in Reservoir Hill. Several Techbalt friends of his have taken to spending their Saturdays helping with the demolition and cleaning out. I've referred to it as a barn raising party. It's more of a crack house razing party. The Techbalt clan reminds me of the Amish or the Mormons moving into a new frontier, working together, circling the wagons. An urban frontier collective. And I applaud them for it. And I'm jealous. I had no neighbors to help here. Most of my friends wouldn't visit and those that did are still shaking their heads. What was the name of Hillary's book? It Takes a Village or something? She was referring to raising children I think, but the same is true for taking back a city. It requires at team effort and that's what Techbalt is proving to be, nothing more and nothing less. One back yard and one block at a time is all we can hope for.
Wednesday, 9/24, 2pm:
Someone left these beautiful roses in the substation a couple days ago. They really dress up the place. Thank you.
I hadn't realized we've run completely out of bottled waters. Often we have a few backed up from donations of Friends of the Substation who check our Help page before going to the market. Officers on all the shifts have come to know they can always find a cold water here. After this morning, I know I'm going to have to restock the hot chocolate, too. I actually woke a bit chilly. Nice though. At least it's not raining.
Sergeant Wimmer of the BCPD and Sergeant Kluver of the PGP have both brought to my attention the fact that vacant houses across from the main complex of Pedestal Gardens at 1420, 22, 24, & 26 Madison are being taken over by dealers. In a written statement, Sergeant Wimmer has said this ...
"This home is totally open for drug dealers to enter. There is evidence inside of this being a "stash" home and a "packaging" house. There was drug packaging material all through this home."
The full text of his description is available here.
Because of the aggressive security and the Pedestal Gardens "zero tolerance" rule, doing business out of their apartments is becoming more difficult, so the dealers have had to move across the street to house their inventory and package it up, either in those little glass vials or tiny zipper bags. They've even been so brazen as to install their own locked entry door on one of the houses. Sales are made frequently through the wrought iron fence facing the south side of the courtyard.
This is exactly what happened with 1704 here. Dealers must have a stash house or apartment to work out of. They can't carry their inventory on themselves or in their cars. 30 or fewer stems of crack will get you convicted for personal use. You get a slap on the wrist. 1,000 will land you in jail ... usually.
We really need to set up a task force to identify and close down crack houses, the essential tool of the drug trade.
I asked the sergeant to write this out so that I could present it to the owner, who we assumed was the city. Turns out they're all owned by the Druid Heights Development Corporation. I have emailed them, including the Sergeant's comments, requesting the properties be secured ASAP. I'll follow up, too, but I'm certain they were simply not aware of the situation and will act quickly as the responsible property owners they are.
I have solicited a donation from IRM, the property managers of Pedestal Gardens, to help cover the cost of the professional UHF radios we're renting for their police here. Hopefully, they'll come through. The $250 a month is a lot for us to add to the substation operation budget. However, these radios are a lifeline. Very often the Nextel walkie-talkies their employer provides are out of service and they can't penetrate into basements or behind buildings reliably, the very places where the officers might need a lifeline most.
It doesn't look like SPS is going to do anything, though it's head honcho said he would by the end of the month. Such gross negligence putting these officers in harm's way without proper communications, even rebuffing the value and reliability of the city police offer to monitor a PGP band, is unforgivable. These officers are provided nothing by their boss, not vests, not guns, not even flashlights. I had to loan an officer my flashlight last night. He couldn't afford a new one between pay checks. I wasn't about to have him enter a crack house like 1420 without one. Someone's going to get hurt doing his job around here. And it seems no one can do anything to help prevent it.
Sunday, 9/21, 2pm: One of the best things about the substation has been the privilege to bring neighbors and officers together and to help encourage collaboration between city and PGP officers, who often rendezvous here during their breaks, sharing information, planning.
Got this note this morning ...
This from a city officer, obviously on the midnight shift. I hope he doesn't think my comments on Friday about increased crime in the neighborhood were a criticism of his work. 'Cause I'm telling you now, sir, that's not what I meant. I know you're working hard. I know it sounds odd, but more crime in the neighborhood doesn't usually mean officers aren't doing their job. It often means there's simply more crime. I know these men and women work very hard. I've seen the five minute lunches. The two minute bathroom breaks when there's barely time to catch one's breath before another call.
The last line in the note reads "Thanks for installing the first aid kit. I borrowed a band aid. Take care." That's absolutely what it's there for. We're happy to provide it. At the BBQ, Sergeant Hess and staff took care of a couple of little scrapes on a couple of little guys using it, too.
I also get notes like this from time to time ...
This card came to us on BBQ day, delivered by Julie along with a nice, very useful assortment of coffee and fixings. Mary's story of dealing with her brother's battle reminds me of when the City Paper article came out. A woman called, barely able to control her tears, to thank us for our efforts to close down a drug market. Her son has been dealing with heroin addiction for years. One day she followed him to our neighborhood from their home in Hampden. She was sure it was right here at 1704 that he got what he wanted. He had been telling mom he was clean.
Thank you, again, Mary, for your contribution and note. I'm privileged to accept your thanks and your gift on behalf of the officers who do the work. I just provide them a toilet.
That a little outpost for officers can be such a symbol of hope to others has been hugely gratifying. The problem is so overwhelming, its victims so many. We feel there's nothing we can do. To donate some coffee to the soldiers in the trenches makes us feel we can do something, however small. We can at least encourage those officers, to let them know we appreciate what they do.
That's all the substation has been. A practical convenience and a gesture of thanks. I will always remember the face of a young officer, shortly after he got his substation key, when I told him all the fixtures, coffee, waters and snacks were donated by neighbors. He was astonished. That's happened more than once. And it's often true. Some have thought the place and the supplies were city provided. I'm always happy to tell them "not so."
Sometimes I've told them, too, "I'm not your maid. Get those muddy boots off the upholstery." I do encourage them to take care of the place, to clean up after themselves, and I'm pleased to say most do. We want them to have a clean, private place to rely on 24/7. I was cleaning up a messy table, food wrappers and sticky with gravy or something one afternoon, cursing the messy officer who left it when the door opened quickly. In came a shame faced young officer who said "I'm sorry about the mess, I came back to clean it up after the call." I was the one who was ashamed. I assured him I really didn't mind cleaning up a table if it meant someone who needed a police officer got one a few minutes faster.
So many little moments thanks to a break room in a crumbling old house. Who'd have expected it?
Yesterday, early evening, PGP Officers Brown and Melcher found themselves way outnumbered by ten thugs, mostly juveniles, who appeared to be trying to make a stand across from the Pedestal Gardens building at 1600 Eutaw. Apparently it was as if to say to the PGP, "you don't scare us." The officers stood their ground, glaring. They contacted Vaughn via radio who relayed the backup request to city police. BCPD responded immediately and in force to disperse the gang and send the message that PGP officers and city officers are working together. Officer Brown said "we're not going to let them take this place back." I'm sure Mr. Chang of Chang's liquor store, where they had this standoff, was thankful for their presence and their resolve. I know I am.
Last night, PGP Officer Vogt and City Police Sergeant Wimmer worked together on some surveillance and arrests for dealing in the neighborhood. Officer Vogt kept us informed of their activity via the radio we're providing them. It was a pleasure to hear about their collaboration and mutual respect. I went to bed thankful they were out there.
Friday, noon: For us, it's one of those mornings you wake up and greet the day, thankful. It's a glorious day up here, too. Perfect sailing weather, and I admit that's where I'd rather be, but this morning Madison Avenue is a pretty nice place to be, too.
From the forecasts earlier in the week, I expected to be surveying the rubble of our house today. I imagined being holed up with three dogs in a tent pitched in the middle of the lot, next to a roofless row house. After the blizzard that did so much damage this winter, I figured the hurricane might finish the job. The dealers haven't been able to run us off, but I was beginning to wonder if Mother Nature was going to help them.
I feel foolish at having taken so many steps to secure the house, boarding windows, working on drains and diversions, stocking up on batteries and canned foods, generally fretting ... almost. Having gone through the biggest hurricane to hit the country many years ago, you get gun shy. I was shocked so many were taking it lightly, not believing a serious hurricane could hit here.
In neighboring counties, nearly half a million people are without power this morning, over a million in this small state. I know I saw many flashes as transformers blew. I watched quite nervously as our neighbor's tree thrashed in the breeze, just a few feet from three building's power leads and the main pole, figuring we'd be without power too. But we're lucky. We're not among the 70,000 people without power in the city or those with five feet of water in their living rooms down next to the harbor.
The only real concern for us last night was the annoyance of an old refrigerator put out on the sidewalk by tenants or the landlord of 1700 a few days ago.
It bothered me a few days ago that these people would be so inconsiderate. We don't need any more eyesores, but as I watched it blow down the block toward cars last night, I had much less kind thoughts about the sort of person who would leave a refrigerator out in a hurricane. Alas, so many around here have such contempt for themselves and their neighbors. During the worst gusts, it finally came to rest in front of our house, fortunately not hitting anything along the way. I'm going to put it back until bulk trash day. Obviously the city has far more important things to deal with and will be busy for weeks.
Up here, the real trouble over the past few days has been an increase in crime. City officers in the substation yesterday morning reported a big surge in larcenies from vehicles, smashing windows, and robberies, including muggings and auto theft. Even as his partner used the restroom, a call came in for a car burglary just up a half block. So many people make the mistake of leaving things visible in their cars. She finished and they went off to investigate. The officer thought it was people desperate for the money to "cop" their drugs before the big storm.
There was a car jacking here just the day before. A teenager who lives in the 1800 block was stopped at the corner of Laurens and Eutaw, waiting for traffic when two men came up, pistol whipped him, dragged him out of his car and drove away up Eutaw toward North Avenue. Sergeant Kluver with the PGP helped him. His comment was "when they can't deal, they turn to other ways to make a buck."
A few days ago, a half dozen bad boys were hanging out on the steps of 1712, two doors up from us and directly across the street from 1715. They couldn't hang there, but across the street was plenty close to advertise. They began talking loudly about 10am. I only heard "greens out" from them once or twice, but the purpose was clear: to advertise they were open for business. Officer Melcher with the PGP came over to watch them. We talked on the police radio we're providing, trading descriptions of them and customers coming from 1717. He knew the names of a couple of the dealers there. It was like old times, but I was not in a nostalgic mood. Finally, I was tired of their blatant challenge and called Central District Major Skinner. Got his voice mail, but left a request anyway. About five minutes later, a Flex Team came through. They all ran like rats, including the two cars that had been idling out there for half an hour.
I sent the Major an email thanking him for the help. Here's his reply ...
No problem. I am pleased with the progress that is being made around Pedestal Gardens. The security is doing a great job and we need to support their efforts.
Just this morning, we watched as a gang of four thugs came out of 1717 or 1715. They glared up at me as I watched from the window and then walked quickly down Wilson toward McCulloh. PGP Officer Brown and I figure they have a safe house in the building. He's going to find out which apartment it is. Hopefully, the tenant there will be evicted. In the meantime, there's pent up demand from those who couldn't get a hit during 50 mph windstorms.
Very early this morning, during gale force winds and rain, I watched in front of our house, and listened to PGP Officer Vogt as he "field interviewed" the occupants of an idling car. One passenger had gone around the corner to McCulloh. Obviously pretty desperate. Obviously to buy. Obviously thought this was the place to do it. Officer Vogt took their information and suggested that the owner of the car, who apparently was the buyer around the corner, might not want to be interviewed once he had the goods on him. Perhaps they should go elsewhere. They left hastily.
Davis, one of our substation supporters and a neighbor from Spicer's Run, called last night to offer us water in case of catastrophe. I did have visions of officers coming by to get water because it was it hard to find after the storm. Fortunately, we had a good supply here for both the officers and us, but it was very kind of him to think of us. At one point last night, my mother was concerned because this website wouldn't come up on her computer in California, but then neither would the New York Times site. I explained that information sources like NYTimes were being overwhelmed and so were ISPs, like ours. Interesting that a crisis in one area can overload the Internet across the country and a hemisphere. This website is served from California. But we are all interconnected through a complex spider web now.
Monday, 4pm: The photos are up! Click here to see 'em. Thank you Dr. Carl for being our photographer this year. You got some great shots.
Vaughn and my favorite is this ...
A finer portrait would be hard to find.
My Mastercard commercial: Rental of Moonbounce, other amusements and serving equipment, $600+. Cost of 450 hamburgers, bags of chips, lemonade and fixings, $400+. City street closure fee: $75. Cost of stress, unimportant. Value of smiles and full stomachs: priceless.
And the value of volunteers who worked hard all afternoon: just as priceless.
This is Vaughn showing a couple of the kids the photos on our steps ...
They were thrilled to see themselves. Their fascination with the laptop Vaughn has for TAKEBACKBALTIMORE work reminded me how important it is to introduce these kids to computers at an early age.
Two houses on Madison's 14 and 1500 blocks are causing problems for PGP and city officers. Owned by the city, they seem to be the new homes of crack house squatters. We're going to begin chronicling what's going on there and work toward getting the city to board them up more securely. Perhaps it's necessary there to use cinder blocks. It may be hard to imagine, but since they don't have free reign over the Pedestal Gardens buildings or 1704 any more, they've taken to simply moving in to two buildings nearby so they can do business. Crack and heroin dealers must have a stash house. Another reason to work on a Crack House Task Force to identify and close them down before they get a stronghold.
Michael Seipp, who lost in the Democratic Primary for our district, told me in an email to give him a couple weeks to regroup his business and then he would like to discuss what he can do to make this task force happen, perhaps even working with the incumbent, Mr. Mitchell. I'd like to see these two work together on this. It was often remarked during the campaign that we were lucky to have two such good candidates. That they could work together now would be a nice comment on their character.
Definitely more activity in and out of 1715-1717 and I hear the same for the courtyard of the main complex. A new, less predictable schedule with longer hours for the PGP has begun today. It will be impossible for the dealers to predict which of them is on or when. Keeping them guessing really puts them off their game. The officers are excited about this, too.
Sunday, 2pm: Loud, large party got out of hand in 1717 last night. The PGP officers did their best but they needed help from city officers. Took three calls. One was wasted with a 911 operator who wanted to argue about who the special police are and if the recreational riot was a problem or not. I lost my temper and hung up. As a veteran 911 caller, let me suggest that if you sense a problem with the operator, don't argue or try to reason with them. Some of them, hopefully very few, are self important city employees who think their place is to decide who gets help and when. If you're calling 911, you don't have time to play with them. Just hang up and redial.
I've gotten several emails about photos of the BBQ. This year Carl kindly volunteered to take some pictures. He took several very nice ones. We're having some technical difficulties getting them into web format, but I should have some posted on the BBQ Central page tomorrow evening.
Having been in Coral Gables, Florida, during a very scary night and driven through Homestead where Andrew flattened houses as far as the eye could see, I'm beginning to worry a bit about Isabel ...
An excellent source for local and hurricane weather info is www.wunderground.com. Just enter your zip code and click the Hurricane link for updated info.
That little x is us. I have a self serving suggestion. Consider buying batteries and canned foods and bottled water in the next day or so. If Isabel continues on this track, by Thursday the stores are going to start getting busy. Of course Baltimoreans are well known for stocking up on white goods during a blizzard: toilet paper, white bread and milk. If that's your plan for a hurricane, do get canned milk.
Vaughn just called to tell me Home Depot is seeing many customers already buying batteries, flashlights, generators and other hurricane stuff. Even if we could afford it, I don't think I'd want to be the only house in the neighborhood with a generator if the power was down for a week, but we will have plenty of batteries.
And now for the self serving part. If she suddenly veers out to sea, bring the extra bottled water and canned stews, soups, Pop Tarts and other mini meal type stuff, to the substation for the officers. They appreciate hot snacks during the winter, especially when everything nearby on their beat is closed. And that's the whole idea, trying to keep them in this sector, especially while we sleep. You can also donate the extra canned goods to the canned food drives coming up on us all too fast. At Sam's Club, where we're going to stock up this afternoon, they've had Christmas decorations available since August. I think I'll wait a bit longer to decorate.
The official count from this year's BBQ was over 450 burgers served and almost as many packs of chips, 55 gallons of lemonade. I couldn't count all the little smiles. We fed everyone who asked, sometimes several times. We certainly had some hard working volunteers on the food serving stations. Had two cases of burgers left over. We've given one to the Patrick Allison House guys who were so helpful and we're going to use the other for a couple little BBQ's for officers. One volunteer said he loved the kid's faces when he assured them it was all free.
Saturday, 2pm: Carrying the police style radio in the yard and sometimes across the street seems to have convinced the bad element that I'm police. Yesterday afternoon, I was talking to PGP officer Brown when a young man jogged out of 1715 and down the street saying nasty things to me while glowering. I haven't seen overt hostility in months. I guess this is what officers are used to.
Last night, three boys came from over from McCulloh to 1715. One stared up at me in the window the whole time I watched as they went into 1715, even giving me the finger. They were going into an apartment there that's now serving as a stash house. It's rented to a young woman, but her cousin is staying there too and is very well known to be a prostitute. God knows, she's got a drop dead figure. In fact that's how I've described her to the officers and they know exactly who I mean.
Last night a huge, gaudy SUV with New York plates spent a couple hours there. Quite likely the supplier. At least a dozen boys came and went, including those three. It was the same thing I used to see every afternoon and night at 1704. I've seen her conduct business and even make sales right out in the street, but mostly her clients visit her indoors.
Hopefully, Pedestal Gardens management will put a stop to this. After last night's behavior, it's obvious what's going on. Each of those visitors should have been stopped and asked for ID and escorted to the apartment in question, but there were so many and they waited carefully for when the PGP guys were on break or at other parts of the complex.
I ran into two Flex Team officers in the substation last night and put them in touch with the PGP guys to share the information as they often do. The Flex Officers said they'd check it out, but I think by then the distribution and business was done. The SUV pulled out and the foot traffic died down.
Dealing on the corner is way down, but I suspect Commissioner Clark has accomplished here what he's proposed: to drive dealing off the street. Now it's more indoors. This puts tremendous pressure on landlords and law abiding tenants to help keep their buildings from becoming the next crack house.
September 12, 6pm: Things are getting back to normal around here. The stress of trying to make the best BBQ possible is out of me. Slept well. Not something I've often been able to say here.
Woke up this morning with a police type radio next to my pillow. I act as late night 911 caller for the PGP Officers, especially when they're on duty alone. The radio beats the heck out of waking up, if I had slept at all, with a shot gun next to me.
The rain has washed away all the street chalk the kids used on a large chalk board called Madison Avenue.
That's a rainbow Pastor Alison taught the kids to draw down on the right. The photo doesn't do justice to the colors or the cheerfulness of the drawings. Best graffiti I've ever seen.
Had a good meeting with the management of Pedestal Gardens and John Copinger of Security Patrol Services who is the direct employer of our PGP Officers, including those with the city special police commissions. Thank you, Pedestal Gardens/IRM for including me at this meeting. It was very neighborly.
I met Mr. Miller, the new regional vice president for IRM. He seemed very interested in learning about the community. Naturally, I was happy to tell him what I know and show him our neighborhood and the substation.
At the beginning of the meeting, IRM made it very clear to me that they cannot, due to liability issues, dictate that SPS provide the professional grade radios we've been renting and the officers here so desperately need. But they can and did strongly suggest that Mr. Copinger work with me and Teltronics, the company we've been working with, to get the Motorola radios and a repeater. Mr. Eckrote of IRM even said that it shouldn't be a matter of economics to Mr. Copinger because "it'll be on our dime," meaning they will pay for the radio investment. Seems like a case of leading a horse to water ...
Mr. Copinger still spoke of finances and trying to improve the Nextel walkie-talkies and of tying any other system into his dispatch offices over in Essex. He disparaged police enthusiasm for the radio idea saying that he'd be more confident about his people being on the other end of the mayday call. I guess he doesn't think the time saved by not having to go through the often out of range Nextel system, then calling 911 twice (911 calls in Essex go to County police who relay them to city police) would matter to one of his guys in a life or death situation. He admitted he's seldom ever been on the beat with his officers here, certainly not at night. That's certainly apparent. He has no idea nor seemingly much regard for the work his employees do here or what we did in coordinating the offer from the police department. He doesn't grasp the police brass' willingness to help expedite communications between PGP and city officers or how ungrateful it is for us not to say thank you and just do it. I was pleased to be able to present an email from Major Skinner reiterating their offer.
Mr. Copinger did however promise to work with me to get a reliable communication system in place by the end of the month. I do wonder what his definition of reliable will be. I hope he pleasantly surprises me.
Pedestal Gardens is expanding the hours of security coverage now. I think they feel it might be cheaper to have a few more hours on the bill than the cost of repairing what vandals have been doing after the officers leave. I said they usually go home after about 4 or 5. The after school crowd and the after bar crowd are the high times of their day. Closing bell at school is opening bell for their market and last call provides them a few hours of brisk business. I know this from having been up that late too many nights myself, phone in hand, describing deals and suspects to 911.
I mentioned at the meeting that I felt an investment in radios would cost far less than a law suit alleging negligence because IRM and SPS put people in harm's way and knowingly did not do everything in their power to protect them. Even so far as rebuffing a police department's offer of direct communications. I volunteered I'd be happy to be witness for the plaintiff. Mr. Copinger seemed more worried about the 75+ arrests Sergeant Kluver and team have made, each opening him up to liability for false arrest. Most of those arrests have led to convictions and plea bargains. Sergeant Kluver is meticulous in his handling of evidence and reports. I've watched him tutor his officers in the substation. The city officers have concurred on all his arrests that I know of. They respect him. I suspect Mr. Copinger would far prefer his officers didn't do community police work, but just stood on post watching the dealers go by while he collects more than twice their salaries.
SPS has been hoping to sign a new contract with IRM to lock in their business. I have a feeling the contract is somewhat contingent on his implementing the proposed radio system and taking the police up on their offer.
I hope this works out as promised, but it is going to work out right one way or another. Today as I opened the official Articles of Incorporation of the non profit Madison/Wilson Neighbor's Association, Inc., I had a thought: I wonder about the viability of MWNA hiring five former SPS employees and putting them to work as community security officers and contracting with IRM to provide the security to their properties here. Their commissions with the police department are connected to the property, not the companies.
If it is legally and financially viable, I'd like nothing better than to put experienced and commissioned special police officers in charge of their own work, answering only to our board and to Pedestal Gardens. If we took John Copinger's overhead and profits out of the equation, I wonder if we could pay them more than the 8 to 11 dollars an hour they're presently earning and save IRM and HUD (taxpayers) some money too.
We could do what's long been needed here, concentrate on protecting our neighborhood, not building someone's business. Anyone who might have ideas about this, know of precedent, etc., please talk to me. I'll be consulting a couple lawyers next week. I'm serious about this if things don't improve for these officers very, very soon.
September 10, 10pm: Another BBQ under our belts. I'm exhausted, but happy. Not as many adults as last year. Just as many kids.
Nice picture via Officer Jimmy Vogt who came off duty, bringing his lovely wife. We served many, many burgers and gallons of lemonade. The program was shorter than planned. We barely had time to say anything, the kids were so anxious to tear into the food. Pastor Alison of First & Franklin said a nice invocation. I did get to explain the flag. Vaughn was able to present Sergeant Kluver with a nice little plaque and a dinner for two at B's, a new restaurant in Bolton Hill. The other officers got theater passes for the Charles Theater, courtesy of Buzz Cusack, it's owner. Modest gestures on our part, but at least something.
Unfortunately, the Commissioner did not attend. I didn't see Chief Gutberlet either, but we do have a little plaque for him as well. Major Skinner was here briefly. He had to run off on business. As did the fire truck, darnit. Before I had a chance to sit in the driver's seat like some of the kids did. The music was great, DJ'd by Charley L and his wife Petie. Great sound system. Good soundtrack.
As with last year, many volunteers made the whole event possible. Neighbors, long time and new substation supporters. Adam from TechBalt was here. Toured the house with some new friends. Tillman from HERO was here to educate about the danger of AIDS. He spoke well to the kids.
More tomorrow, I'm sure. But it was a good afternoon. One mom came over to me just as we were closing down and said her little daughter was thrilled, so excited about the BBQ, the kids and the Moonbounce. The street is covered in pictures of rainbows and idyllic houses and horsies. Exactly what you'd expect from 3 to 10 year olds. They're the same here as anywhere. And if we gave them a fun afternoon, it was entirely worth it.
And I can't thank those who helped enough. You made it possible.
September 8, noon: Had a little birthday party for Sergeant Kluver in the substation last night. Several officers, both city and PGP, Vaughn and me. Chicken wings and a blue and white frosted cake with a little police motif.
The two who disappeared the night before were there, OK. Turns out Officer Tyler had a migraine attack and Officer Melcher took him to the hospital. Entirely understandable, but as I told them, a call to their dispatcher at least might have saved considerable worry.
Mr. Eckrote from IRM is going to try to make it to the BBQ. I hope during his visit to Baltimore we can get some progress on the radios.
Preparations for the shindig are coming along. Issue this hour is potato chips. Bulk or individual snack packs? Looks like we're going to get 420 bags of Utz chips wholesale. Shortly, I'm going to work on the yard. Got to cut back the grass and weeds. Looks like the weather will be good on Wednesday. I hope it's just like this wonderful day.
September 7, noon: Officer Brown is out patrolling this fine, fall like day. Several churches around having services. No dealers in sight.
Yesterday, he found ten fully loaded crack vials in the courtyard of Pedestal Gardens, the main complex at Eutaw and McMechen. I congratulated him quite sincerely, while remembering that I've found twice that in my yard many times. He's been having a bit more trouble of late and apparently disrupted one of the street boy's business. Same officer who's found a lot of bad things, including a very functional pistol. He keeps his eyes open.
Readers here will know we've been providing UHF professional grade radios to the PGP officers because neither the owners of Pedestal Gardens or the SPS Security company they work for have taken proper responsibility. I still have hope they will, though. Teltronic of Baltimore is renting them to us for a quarter of the usual rate. Still, it's nearly $300 a month. But that's not what I'm talking about right now.
Last night, I was monitoring two of the PGP officers. I act as their 911 link in an emergency. I've been just that several times. Last night, they had a lot of problems with drug thugs in the 1600 Eutaw Place building of Pedestal Gardens. A long night for them. But it became a longer night for me. About an hour and a half before the end of their shifts, they stopped communicating with each other. Then they didn't respond when I called. After several tries, I began to wonder if the night had gone really, really bad. After all, the radios are a lifeline and when no one answers the other end of the line, you wonder. And worry.
I decided I wasn't going to sleep unsure if they'd just gone home early, perhaps in disgust, having had enough ... or if they were lying in the hall of one of the buildings, beaten or shot. So, I went through 1715-1717 hall by hall. Saw one boy smoking crack. Scared him. Said, "It's cool! Have you seen any officer recently around here?" Naturally, he hadn't. I turned around, grabbing the rail of the stair and my hand slipped. It was slimey. Then I looked around a bit more. Entry doors and fire escapes were broken. The outside fire doors on my side have been broken for months. The smell was bad. The common areas are grimey and slimey. I hadn't realized how bad maintenance has gotten there. But I digress, again.
I got Vaughn up and we drove to the other buildings, looking for a little van one of the officers drives. No sign. At one point I checked in the substation and found their radios on the charger base. No wonder they weren't responding, but at least I had more reason to think they were OK. I called their supervisors at SPS. No word. More concerned about employees sneaking off than their safety. They promised to send a supervisor to look for them, too. Promised to tell me if they turned up. No word even now.
Likely they just went home early. Maybe they've quit. I wouldn't blame 'em. Still, worrying about them while searching their "beat" really helped me understand a couple things: One, I respect what they do and appreciate their risks more than most. Two, the buildings of Pedestal Gardens are not a pleasant place to be at 3am and that's likely the same at 9 and noon and 5. They could be a lot better with some detergent and elbow grease and an effort at making them more like homes than jail cubicles.
I'm angry at SPS for not backing up their people here with proper, professional grade communications and I won't even discuss right now the pitiful wages I would be ashamed to pay. I'm angry at IRM for at least those same reasons, and the fact that shoddy maintenance exascerbates the problems at Pedestal Gardens.
Yesterday, I heard a rumor, from a well placed person, that Pedestal Gardens might be going bankrupt. I don't know. Perhaps that would explain why the management (owners) haven't paid their security bill in months or can't seem to find the Windex or a screw driver. This afternoon I can't say I'd mind if the buildings were closed as the monied elitists on Eutaw have so long wanted. Just like 1704, the crackhouse windmill I tilted at for two years, it might be better a boardup than what it is. But unlike the NIMBYs (not in my back yarders), I truly care about where my good neighbors, moms and kids, who eek out a life there, would go. I don't want them to lose a now reasonably secure (thanks to PGP officers), if slimey place, and end up on the streets.
September 6, after midnight: The Crime Orientation Bus Tour was fascinating. Much better than I'd hoped. Informative and inspirational.
We met at the Savalot market at the corner of McMechen and Eutaw. We boarded a police bus with broken windows and bullet holes.
I realized this old Bluebird bus was a lot bigger when I was 9. It was warm and cramped and packed full of community activists and leaders from all over the Central District.
We drove through a zig zag route starting with our neighborhood. Many were asked to briefly discuss the challenges of their communities. I was first since we started just across the street. I was happy to report progress here finally. I touched briefly on the five elements of change here: more effective policing, the PGP, the substation, the crack house closing and the forming of a small fledgling community association to address the needs of our long neglected block.
We toured Mt. Vernon next, doubled back to Bolton Hill, crossed over to Reservoir Hill, rode down North Avenue to Druid Heights, into Heritage Crossing, through Seton Hill and down to the Westside. We stopped at the convention center and discussed homelessness and it's affects in all areas. Then we all went to a very pleasant little reception with soda and sweets provided by the Hyatt, heard from the State's Attorney's Office and watched a nice little video on the Westside redevelopment.
At each stop along along the way we heard from those who know their neighborhoods. We heard tales of small and huge problems, complaints and successes. We had disagreements. I saw one neighbor with whom I've been butting heads for a year, one who refuses for his own reasons to believe things are better here. He was barely civil when we said hello, but he's irrelevant. He has a selfish agenda, but this was by far a group of people interested in helping their neighborhoods and the greater good. And most importantly, working together in that direction.
I took from this tour hope and inspiration. It might be that for the first time I felt not just hope for the city and my tiny part in it, I was proud of it.
I met CD Major Skinner finally, having spoken to him on the phone several times. I learned a lot about the many areas of concern he has managing a very limited number of officers over a large and complex district with many needs. I was even more awed at the demands on officers. For over two years, my focus has been one block and that's been a fight, but today I am more convinced than ever we need to work together and a great step in that direction was sharing and talking and networking. I plan to follow up on contacts and leads made tonight. Exactly what the Major intended.
Thank you Major Skinner. I look forward to seeing you at our BBQ.
September 5, 3pm: Andrey Bundley lost my respect last night. I thought he was an impassioned educator with character, though I've already mentioned that I feel he's a one issue candidate with the cart before the horse mentality of helping repair our drug ravaged neighborhoods: sending in social workers before officers is such naive reasoning.
But now it seems he's a racist, too. In an article in the Sun today he says ...
"I say to you Baltimore, I look you in the eye, and tell you that we're going to make history. We will make history because this will be the first African-American-elected mayor to have unseated an incumbent,"
Why is race an issue at all? Because he has so few others? He was mean, made sniping comments with no purpose other than to distract from his poor grasp of the issues. Running a high school is not experience running a city or anything nearly so much larger and complicated. His supporters were simply insulting and nasty. O'Malley spoke positively and didn't attack nearly as much as I would have. He has a record to be proud of. I sure hope there isn't the upset I've heard some predict. It would sure upset me.
Bundley's accusations about political maneuvering did strike a chord. I still resent O'Malley damaging the Townsend campaign last year by playing with the idea of running. Perhaps he was given incentives to back away from challenging her, as Bundley accused while calling the Mayor deceitful. I resented deeply his distracting himself from the full time job of being mayor so early in his tenure. I will likely be bothered by him campaigning for governor while we rely on him to be mayor. However, I think he's done a good job here for the most part and is the best choice. I wish he'd guarantee not to run for other office during his next term, but that's what it is, wishful thinking. I don't think any elected official should be allowed to run for other office while serving his or her term, but that's not how the system works.
I also agree with Bundley on his one issue: We are neglecting education here. Everyone sees Baltimore City Schools as a cruel joke. It is a huge obstacle to the revitalization of the city as a place to live and raise a family. Reforming our school management and making public education here much better is a vastly larger priority than giving away sweet deals to businessmen to build luxury high rise hotels.
The real election seems to be Council President since it's likely that person will be mayor should O'Malley become governor. I have a feeling Sheila Dixon would continue the work of O'Malley and support our police officers. I have my qualms about her judgment in hiring those relatives and on fighting the reorganization of the Council which was clearly what we wanted. Something our Council candidate Michael Seipp is campaigning on. The individual responsiblity Council members as we will now have is a smart idea. She deserves criticism on those scores, but I do not see it as entirely wrong that the council and its president support the mayor so strongly, especially in his stance of crime fighting, as has Keiffer Mitchell. We've all seen too often what happens when a congress and a president are at odds. Little gets done but bickering and name calling and distracting attacks. The one should question the other, but balance is what serves us best.
So I guess my endorsements on two positions are entirely clear now. Not that you needed to know them or likely cared. That's not really my purpose here. Except to the extent that I believe some of the progress here has been because of the O'Malley/Dixon team. And I believe Mr. Bundley could do considerable damage, fast.
I was surprised when O'Malley was elected. I didn't believe the city, being so largely African American, could elect an Irishman again. I was new to Baltimore and didn't know about the days prior to Schmoke. I just couldn't understand why anyone supported Schmoke. I saw no leadership and no hope from him. O'Malley himself encouraged our investment here, and the fact the electorate was capable of making a choice regardless of race impressed me, too. It really did give me hope.
I remember the African American woman screaming at Vaughn and I that we didn't belong here, we belonged across the street (in Bolton Hill). We were arguing over the fact she felt she should throw her kitchen waste into the vacant lot between our houses. I was hugely disappointed with a leader from the Payne Memorial Church who said our living here "wasn't in keeping with the character of the community." I replied "you mean the character of doing nothing about rampant drug dealing and violence as you do." I resented that racism as much as I resented Quentin the drug thug screaming at me that this was his block through the fence, while making sure he showed me the butt of his gun.
Baltimore's progress has been hampered for many, many years by distinct class and race divisions in its neighborhoods. Some people in Bolton Hill felt everything west of Eutaw Place was no man's land, not their concern. So long as the trouble stayed over here where it belongs, that was OK. Over the past few years I've noticed that changing at lot. Perhaps no one from over here thought to ask with something tangible to ask for help with. Perhaps some just never looked across the street. I remember one Spicer's Run resident quoted in the City Paper article, "I don't think we knew this [out of control drug market] was here." A good example of this change in attitudes is the outpouring of help to finish the substation and support it over the past year. I've always said the crack market right here was the cause of the petty burglaries, muggings and car break-ins in Bolton Hill. While it's important to work and concern yourself with your own back yard, that does not mean isolationism at any level is the answer.
We have to reach out to our neighborhood's neighborhoods. Learn the problems of our neighboring communities and how they all interact. A prime example of that is when Officer Vogt of the PGP told me he had seen the same dealer here that he saw dealing over on the East Side. They operate through vast territories of the city.
To that end, I am so looking forward to taking the Crime Orientation Bus Tour tonight. Organized by Central District Major Skinner to tour the neighborhoods of the Central District and discuss their challenges. Representatives from various communities will be aboard. Some are going to speak about their neighborhoods. We're going to meet for a reception during which I hope a lot of networking happens, where contacts can be made to work together and share ideas more.
This tour is unique to the Central. According to Major Skinner, the Commissioner is encouraging creativity among his District leaders. Hands on management. And that's what we've seen. Creativity and progressive ideas, like the Flex Team deployments, citations and things to include the community in sharing ideas and working with the police department, not just complaining to them.
An example of this creative policing we're seeing now since Commissioner Clark came in was the deployment of the Mobile Command unit here on Wilson to knock back this market while it served as a staging and command area to truly attack at Pennsy and Laurens. That was in March. Last night a large, multi faceted operation netted many arrests and disrupted dealers up and down McCulloh. Plain clothes officers, Flex Units and uniformed officers along with Foxtrot all worked together. According to Major Skinner, "we're using different strategies, unpredictably, keeping the dealers guessing." Breaking up markets and making it harder to do business is the goal.
Today though, Officer Brown has been playing the "waiting each other out game" with thugs over at the Courtyard of Pedestal Gardens. While he was over there, some obvious players came over here. He was going back and forth, looking for stashes, disrupting their plans. We think it might have been a backlash of last night's police operation. Perhaps quotas have been missed. New players are on the streets to replace those who couldn't make their bail from last night.
There will always be an abundant supply of young men to become apprentice drug dealers so long as we provide such poor education and can't protect those kids (and their moms), most of whom have far more honorable and less life threatening aspirations. And as Bundley and O'Malley both say, until we really address the lack of good education and opportunities, we only perpetuate this war.
September 4, 6pm: Been busy lining up the BBQ. Today, Mr. Bud Cusack who owns the Charles Theater and is a partner in B's and The Helmond called to say they want to donate the dinners for two and theater coupons we wanted to give the officers along with our little certificates. Whatever we present them will seem lame compared to what they've done and are doing for us, but that doesn't mean saying thank you isn't important. I get to do that every day with the help of substation supporters, but I'm lucky.
Just a few minutes ago, I was chatting with two officers, inviting them to the BBQ, encouraging them to come even if off duty. One said he will, the other said, "I have to have my day off, but thank you." I'm trying to encourage them to attend in civilian clothes to really see that many of us here appreciate them and what they do.
Techbalt, TakeBackBaltimore, HERO and BSAS may all be here at the BBQ with information tables. Each of these groups has something to offer and we're glad to have them. Click on their names to find out more.John from Missouri and Julie from Takoma Park, Maryland, both made donations this week to the BBQ and substation fund. As did Shanon and Francesa and Ken and Leslie, all of Bolton Hill. These donations are so very much appreciated and will be used to provide amusements for the kids and an even better BBQ offering. It was amazing and gratifying to see how many burgers hungry kids can consume in an hour. Too often I think it was because it was the most substantial meal they'd had all week. I loved the mustard smeared smiles and "really, for free?" I know for certain that the kids who used to live in 1704 often had Cheetos and Pepsi for dinner. Their moms were too busy selling crack and getting high.
In an email from the Mayor recently, he said "I appreciate your constant support for the police." I guess it has been constant since we moved here. Seemed normal to get to know the officers and let them know me and that I was here, trying to make a home. Often they've looked at me as crazy, but they've also looked out for me on so many occasions. And after a time, came to know there could be change here and that those of us who live here really want a safe neighborhood, which helps to encourage more.
There's a thread on the Bolton Hill Bulletin Board I thought were of interest. It begins "Attempted breakin" and is dated September 3. One posting in the thread is from a Reservoir Hill resident who marvels that drug dealers will come right up to you and ask what drugs you want. Doesn't seem amazing to me anymore, of course. She goes on to suggest the officers aren't doing their jobs because they're complicit. I'm sure in the very rare instance that's happened, but I know these officers try very hard. I also know it's extremely difficult for uniformed officers in marked cars to make drug busts. The same dealers who solicit you don't walk up to police officers very often. Just because someone might look like a drug dealer is not sufficient cause to harrass them, as many complain. You have to see something or have a specific description for an officer to ask. It takes plain clothes officers and the very aggressive Flex Team units to target dealers.
And it requires closing crack houses, the essential tool of the drug market trade. And that takes neighbor's involvement, doing a lot more than just complaining. We do not do enough to demand responsibility from those who've abandoned their houses or worse, rent to dealers or allow them to occupy their buildings.
Got two emails today from State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy's office about the prosecution and results of two cases of specific interest to those of us who live around here. I think this is a great idea. Very often, if you called the police to report a crime, you never know what's happened. You don't have time to follow the case and call about it. Being informed like this reassures me that the powers that be really do bring about justice much of the time, if you're patient. And this email list could really help to bring people into court to show they care, as it did when we attended Clarence Weston's trial. If you'd like to be on this list for information on the progress of prosecutions in your neighborhood, I'd suggest emailing Stephanie Royster in the State's Attorney office at SRoyster@StAttorney.org. Tell her I sent you! <g>
Things over at the main complex of Pedestal Gardens, at McMechen and Eutaw, have been getting a bit worse. Lots of dealers apparently trying to find footholds among the apartments. Just this week I saw two more evictions. A neighbor I know who lives there told there were more epithets and threats in magic marker on a hall wall. Saturday night a party of 200+ leaving the Elks Lodge down there were rowdy to the point of a small riot which took a lot of attention from the PGP and city officers to control. These events serve as reminders that we rely ever so much on these men and women.
Labor Day 2003: I'm too lazy to reorganize the site today, as I usually do when the months change.
My comment yesterday that the site might be nearing it's end got some comments rather quickly. "Please don't." I guess not everyone is away for the three day weekend.
Last year, I threatened to close this down and got dozens of emails asking me not to. Then it was out of frustration and defeat and feeling very alone. Now it's a different story. Things are downright boring here most of the time. Not that I'm complaining. And I'm enjoying discussing the BBQ preparations. Just, after that, I don't know what I'll be writing about. I joked with an officer last night that we need some exciting chases or something. My entries are getting boring and I don't have any exciting pictures. We chuckled, he knocked wood and said "let's not." Former Central District Major Gutberlet used to say never say things are better because that's when they go bad.
We do have Labor Day parties to keep the officers busy around here. One of the PGP officers reports seeing cases of booze going into the Pedestal Gardens apartments. "That's what'll keep us busy tonight." Still better than watching grocery bags full of crack go in there. Often times now for these officers, the challenge is keeping alert for the little signs of things trying to slide back. Just a few days ago, an officer told me to keep an eye out for a particular car and to let him know when I see it because it belongs to a guy who runs a few drug markets in the Western District.
And I guess I do have something interesting to report. Major Skinner has invited several community leaders (he thinks of me as one) to take a Crime Orientation Bus tour this Friday night. I gather we're going to ride around together, listening to and seeing crime areas in the district. Seems like a progressive idea for encouraging neighborhoods to work together. He's asked me to speak, to describe the challenges here, how the crack house got closed, the substation, the work of the PGP and the new Flex Teams and how all that has helped. I think he's proud of the progress here. He should be.
Might be a good time to discuss the Crack House Task Force concept. Anyone familiar with open air drug markets knows how closing down crack houses is essential. Perhaps we can get some support for the concept.
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