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August 16, 2011

Bealefeld defends department on Steiner

Baltimore Police Commissioner went on the Marc Steiner show on Morgan State University's WEAA-Radio and confronted his critics. Listen to show here.

On police protecting their own: "One of things I've tried to do is avoid all these blanket indictments and over-generalizations. We should be constantly testing and challenging ourselves in the community. What kind of service do we provide or don't we provide? What kind of professionalism do we have?"

He noted the arrests of officers in a towing scandal and reminded people that the department lured them to the training academy under a ruse that their guns needed to be checked and then busted them. He said that despite rumors the arrest plan had been compromised, all but two officers showed, proving to him that the rumors were false. The other two had been out of town.

But he said he felt there were legitimate concerns about what sergeants and lieutenants were doing while officers were directing unsuspecting motorists to a towing company not approved by the city, but one that was paying off cops for the extra business. "If they were really paying attention to their people, why wouldn't they know?" he asked.

Continue reading "Bealefeld defends department on Steiner" »

August 4, 2011

City police investigate shootings

In addition to the 91-year-old woman who stabbed to death in her Northeast Baltimore house Wednesday evening, city police are investigating several shootings.

The latest shooting occurred this morning at Monastery and Frederick avenues in Southwest Baltimore. Police said an adult male was shot in the side. Shorlty after midnight, an adult male was shot multiple times in the 2300 block Allendale Road in Northwest Baltimore.

About 10 p.m., police reported a man shot in the back in the 1700 block of Presstman St., in West Baltimore. in Sandtown-Winchester.

Details were slim on these cases this morning. We'll have more as information develops.

August 2, 2011

National Night Out

National Night Out has become a big community event, getting residents and cops together to take back the streets. Below is a list of events in the city and the counties, scheduled for today, Aug. 2

National Night outs:

Baltimore City

Baltimore County

Harford County

Anne Arundel County

Howard County

I could only find one in Carroll County, in Eldersburg. Here is a link to details. If anyone knows of more here, please let me know and I'll post.

May 9, 2011

Providing alternative for kids in West Baltimore

[Photo credit - Amy Davis, The Sun]

James Mosher Baseball, Maryland's oldest continuously operating league for African-American children, started in 1960 to keep kids occupied in the summer. But after decades of play, its fields need help and the group is looking to to refurbish them so it can continue to provide alternatives in an area described by the city police commissioner as a "hotbed" for gang activity, reports The Sun's Liz F. Kay.

The group has raised two-thirds of the $120,000 needed for the project, which would add irrigation, renovate the two diamonds and replace the bleachers, as well as aerate and treat the outfield areas.

"We wanted to be able to provide players with a field where it can be as true to baseball as possible," said Reginald Exum, James Mosher's special projects coordinator.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. said the neighborhood has been "like a hotbed of gang activity" for the past few years. "Unfortunately some young men over there are bent on destroying each other," Bealefeld said.

But Mosher baseball "is probably the biggest effort in trying to provide an alternative for young boys and even some young girls on those teams in that community," he said. "It's huge what they do."

Bealefeld praised the volunteers who provide "real mentoring" to players. "The James Mosher guys are just heroes," the commissioner said.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 10:15 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Neighborhoods, West Baltimore
        

April 13, 2011

Friends, neighbors of victim hope to spark tips in cold case

"Maybe it was a gang initiation thing?" the woman asks Detective Thomas Martin.

"That was a thought, but …" Martin says, shaking his head and trailing off.

"Maybe they were already in the house," another woman offers.

"No, they definitely busted in the door," retorts a man.

Three years after 74-year-old Nancy Schmidt was stabbed to death in her Remington home, the trail has gone cold, and neighbors and friends have met in the basement of an office building in hopes of breathing new life into the case. They're brainstorming ideas for a neighborhood canvas this weekend in which they'll pass out fliers, and tips are already coming in.

"The goal is to touch the conscience of someone who knows something," said Joan Floyd, president of the Remington Improvement Association, who is helping lead the effort.

On TV, cold case detectives reach back into decades-old cases and unearth new clues using state-of-the-art technology. The reality in Baltimore city, where police solved 50 percent of the 223 murders last year, is that there are hundreds if not thousands of cold cases, and only a handful of detectives to pursue them.

Floyd and Schmidt's friend, Lisa Spitler, know police can't do it themselves. With the three-year anniversary of Schmidt's death approaching, they've launched a public campaign to call attention to the unsolved case.
Posted by Justin Fenton at 4:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods, North Baltimore
        

February 16, 2011

Bealefeld talks crime in Northeast

UPDATE: About three hours after the police commissioner left the community meeting, the Northeast District had its seventh homicide of the year. It occurred in the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood, an area of particular concern. There have now been 21 slayings in the city this year, one more than noted below.

At times, the city's top cop resembled a pitch-man selling 25-year lows in homicides and other glowing crime stats to people living in an area with a spike in kilings this year (see The Sun's homicide map).

At one point, the Northeast District accounted for one-third of all this year's slayings. Now, iit's slightly less, with six of the city's 20 killings this year. It's tied with the Southern for the most. So you might forgive the residents if they were a bit skeptical (I'll have more about the meeting in Friday's Crime Scenes column).

But they politely allowed Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III to make his presentation during a packed meeting at Good Samaritan Hospital. The top cop is a bit frustrated that few people seem to know of the crime drops made in the past couple of years, even as his cops arrest tens of thousands of fewer people. It's targeted enforcement of gun and violent offenders over street corner sweeps.

Bealefeld pounded away that the image of Baltimore remains a deadly one -- "People are killed in the city every day," he quoted an oft-heard remark. He started at his audience and said bluntly, "It's a lie." The city went nine days once this year without a single killing, and non-fatal shootings are down from more than 750 in 2000 to 450 last year.

Yet Bealefeld lamented that more people know arcane stats about football and baseball players they follow than about the crime stats that impact the values of their homes.  "We don't know the stats that drives the engine that creeps peole out about the city," he said.

Still, Bealefeld acknowledged a problem in the Northeast and that it's no longer confined to one small area in the southern part of the district. "A lot more needs to be done in this area," he told the group. "It's unacceptable under anybody's standards. And it's moving -- it's moving east and west and we need to do something about it."

Residents peppered Bealefeld with questions but few demanded specific answers about the nature of the killings or what plans police had in place. The group appeared unanimous in its support of promoting the district's deputy major, Darryl DeSousa, to majoor, to replace the commander who just retired.

Bealefeld wouldn't give them an answer, despite repeated attempts, but said he will name a new district commander in a matter of weeks. After the commissioner left, DeSousa told his supporters, "I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

A wrong turn, and a visitor's dim view of the city

Police and city officials have to fight crime on two fronts -- reality and perception. It hardly matters if the crime declines statistically if residents feel unsafe.

And perception can come from various places, such as the media -- shows like The Wire -- or a particular experience. I hear every week from people who think the police helicopter flying over their neighborhood is evidence of decline. One holdup on the block can mean crime is out of control, even if holdups went down 80 percent.

That brings me to Chiara Mapelli, a 15-year-old from Italy. Her family was visiting DC and decided to come up to Baltimore for a few days. But wrong directions on their GPS led them to East Baltimore where she, her sister, mom and dad were, according to her e-mail, "frightened of everything they saw."

I'm presenting her email below, knowing it will spark plenty of debate. I have no idea how they missed the Inner Harbor and ended upon east Lafayette Avenue, or if they actually witnessed three purse snatchings, or a rampant drug trade, or even "prostitution everywhere."

But does it matter? This was this girl's perception of our city and it was enough to send her family speeding back to DC's Georgetown neighborhood. Whether or not her account is accurate, it's doubtful that her next trip to the U.S. will include Baltimore.

Here is her letter:

Continue reading "A wrong turn, and a visitor's dim view of the city" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:24 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: City Hall, Confronting crime, East Baltimore, Neighborhoods
        

February 12, 2011

Stolen camera spotted on Craigslist leads to arrest in Canton burglaries

An observant homeowner who spotted his stolen camera being sold on Craiglist led Baltimore police to an undercover sting, a take-down at a coffee shop in Canton and an investigation that closed a series of burglaries in the neighborhood.

Sunday's Crime Scenes column walks you through the investigation and profiles the suspect, who police said had decorated his apartment with looted items that he hadn't yet sold:

Inside, Layton wrote in court documents, he saw Driver's stolen X-Box hooked up to the television set. On a shelf, the officer said, he saw the victim's stolen bottles of gin and vodka, lined up in an "orderly fashion," as if they had been there for months.

The detective also saw a pile of jewelry, cell phones and computer equipment, and over the next few weeks, he painstakingly matched the items to four other burglaries in Canton between June and January in which thousands of dollars of items were reported stolen.

A license plate number etched on the back of a cell phone led him to the victim of one burglary. A number in another phone's directory labeled "Dad" led him to the father of another victim. A home phone number found on a portable computer drive led to a third.

Court documents reveal a series of burglaries that in some cases required several pages of police reports to list the missing items — laptop computers, video game consoles, expensive watches, guitars, iPods, smart phones, cameras and handbags.

And that's just the stuff you'd expect to be stolen in a burglary.

The list of missing loot includes steaks taken from a freezer along with a George Foreman grill. There's a stack of missing children's videos — unopened Blu-ray discs of "Wall-E," "A Bug's Life," "Cars" and "Monsters, Inc." — and videos for older folks, such as a boxed set of "Seinfeld" and the second season of "Big Love."

From one house, an engraved $1,300 Swiss Tag Heuer watch was stolen. From another house, a $2 box of Rice-A-Roni was taken from a cupboard.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:17 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods, Southeast Baltimore
        

February 11, 2011

Trial begins of community leader charged in wife's death

From Baltimore Sun reporter Tricia Bishop:

The murder trial of Cleaven L. Williams Jr. — who's accused of fatally stabbing his pregnant wife outside a Baltimore courthouse in 2008 — began Friday morning with attorneys arguing whether the autopsy photos could be shown to jurors.

Veronica L. Williams was stabbed seven times in her face and neck, and the images taken by the medical examiner are described as graphic, showing wounds stretched wide to measure their depth.

"They're very shocking," said defense attorney Melissa Phinn. She contends that the photographs would prejudice jurors against her client, while prosecutor Kevin Wiggins said they are necessary to show "the extent of the injuries." The judge said he would allow them to be presented, with portions blocked out.

You may remember this case for another reason: the suspect was shot by a Baltimore police officer moments after the stabbing, and a witness urged the cop to fire again. The stabbing occurred just as the victim left court to obtain a protective order.

And later, a police commander was accused of sending text messages to the suspect, who was well known as a community activist and who went on police crime walks, as police were trying to serve an arrest warrant on him. The deputy major was later cleared but police studied whether the warrant for Williams had been handled outside normal procedures.

Reporter Melissa Harris, who is no longer at The Sun, wrote a long story on the Williams case.It includes this chilling account of the stabbing and the shooting of the suspect, picking up just as the victim was leaving court on East North Avenue:

Continue reading "Trial begins of community leader charged in wife's death" »

February 10, 2011

City, county leaders press for tougher gun laws

"He smirked at me."

That's how Baltimore Police Officer Todd Strohman described the gunman just before he
pulled the trigger, putting a bullet into his shoulder, a bullet that will remain inches above his heart for the rest of his life.

The cop had another message for state lawmakers who make up the Senate's Judiciary
Committee contemplating tougher guns laws proposed by the city (see city's website describing proposed legislation): If the proposed laws had been on the books, the person charged with shooting him wouldn't have been on the street.

The audience applauded Strohman and the lawmakers wished him well. There was no sense
in grilling him on the necessity of enhanced gun legislation. The man charged in the crime had served two years of a 12-year sentence for armed robbery (the judge had suspended six of the years) and had been charged with five previous gun crimes. He had gotten out a little more than two weeks before the shooting on North Calvert Street.

"Seventeen days after he gets out, he shoots one of our cops," said Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale.

See more on the gun hearing:

Continue reading "City, county leaders press for tougher gun laws" »

State's attorney wants community-based prosecutions

Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein said Wednesday that he wants to assign assistant state's attorneys to geographic areas to track repeat offenders plaguing their communities.

Prosecutors currently focus on specific types of offenses, such as drug cases, general felonies or homicides. The community prosecution model would divide the city into zones, with a group of prosecutors working more collaboratively with police to track and build cases against targeted individuals.

"They would be focusing on all crimes in that particular area," Bernstein told members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. "The goal is to have them prosecute defendants, not cases." 

Such a model is used in cities across the country, including Philadelphia, where Bernstein said he recently met with District Attorney Seth Williams. It is also done with varying effort in places from Manhattan and Brooklyn to Anne Arundel County, and was tried out for 18 months in a Baltimore neighborhood in 2003 using grant money.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 10:31 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Courts and the justice system, Neighborhoods
        

November 8, 2010

Locust Point city's safest community?

Jamie Smith Hopkins over at the Real Estate Wonk blog has put up a post on a group that named South Baltimore's Locust Point the safest large neighborhood in the city.

She wants to know if people agree (weigh in here).

Locust Point, a neighborhood with deep blue-collar roots (see map here), has a location alongside Baltimore's waterfront that has brought it high-end residential development in recent years.

WalletPop, which relied on NeighborhoodScout for the data and analysis, says it ranked the safest neighborhood of at least 1,000 people in each of the nation's largest cities. Those neighborhoods tended to be either wealthy or "more modest income neighborhoods with many tightly-knit working class families."

The chances of becoming a crime victim in a year of living in Locust Point are 1 in 84, better odds than in 70 percent of U.S. neighborhoods, WalletPop said.

I know one thing going for Locust Point is that it's located on a peninsula and there is only one major road in and out -- Fort Avenue. Residents believe that keeps outside criminal agitators out, because it's too easy to for them to become trapped.

This year, a Locust Point man was killed. His body was found in a shallow grave in Patapsco Valley State Park in Anne Arundel County. One of the suspect's was from neighboring South Baltimore.

That was the neighborhood's only murder thus far this year (police determined the victim was killed by blunt force trauma at a Locust Point residence). See the Baltimore Sun's homicide map for more details.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:30 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Neighborhoods, South Baltimore
        

November 4, 2010

New plan to combat city vacants

Baltimore's mayor has unveiled a new plan to more quickly deal with the thousands of vacant houses that pockmark the city's landscape, such as at left in this picture by The Sun's Jed Kirschbaum shortly after a fire ravaged a string of vacants in West Baltimore. The houses not only spread blight, but attract crime, and as we recently saw in West Baltimore, can feed the flames of fire consuming entire city blocks.

The Sun's Julie Scharper wrote:

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she would accelerate redevelopment of Baltimore's more than 30,000 vacant properties by cutting bureaucracy and speeding the sales of city-owned properties.

"Vacant houses are more than just an eyesore," Rawlings-Blake said at a Wednesday morning news conference. "Just ask someone who lives next door to one."

Vacant properties constitute one of the city's most pernicious problems, depressing home values and blighting the landscape. Officials have counted 16,000 unoccupied buildings, which harbor vagrants, attract vermin and pose fire hazards. The city owns 10,000 of the vacant properties, on 4,000 of which sit empty structures.

Last month, The Sun's Jessica Anderson brought us to Calhoun Street, where two simultaneous four-alarm arson fires on Sept. 8 destroyed two sides of a city block and taxed the Baltimore Fire Department to the point it needed unprecedented help from neighboring counties. Fire trucks from as far away as Washington responded.

The mayor's plan was already in the words when the fires broke out, but they served as yet another reminder of one of Baltimore's most persistent urban ills, and one that stands out to anyone who drives through these areas.

Here are the mayor's prepared remarks on her plan for vacant houses:

Continue reading "New plan to combat city vacants" »

October 25, 2010

A murder "puzzler"

I love a good puzzle, and I found a strange one while out for a walk this weekend. I usually bypass graffiti memorializing murder victims -- there's simply too much of it in the city. But one tag on the underside of a bridge caught my attention simply because of its remote location.

I found it on a bridge abutment next to a path in Wyman Park, between Hampden and the west side of the Johns Hopkins University campus. It marked the death of a "Homeboy," which doesn't exactly narrow it down, on Aug. 31 of this year.

I didn't recall any killings in this little scene urban area. The "RIP Homeboy" was written in black in a cloud next to a tag written in large red and yellow letters that spelled "puzzler." I'm guess that's the nickname for the person who wrote the graffiti. What I don't know is whether someone added the "RIP to the tag after it had been completed or if it's part of the complete piece. Does the victim have a connection to the person who did the work?

I checked our homicide map and found one killing on this date -- Nathanial Santiago, 31, who was shot and killed Aug. 31 in the 4100 block of Harris Ave. in Northeast Baltimore.

According to the brief description on the map, Santiago was entering an apartment building when he was approached by two men and got into a fight and then was shot.

I'd love to hear more details on this tag and it's connection to an Aug. 31 death.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:09 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods, North Baltimore
        

October 12, 2010

7 killed from Friday through Monday

For those of you trying to keep track, here's a list of violence in Baltimore that started Friday afternoon and went through Monday morning. A full account of the mayhem can be found here. There have now been 171 slayings in the city this year, compared with 176 at this time last year:

Friday, 2:30 p.m.: Sterling Palmer, 78, found fatally stabbed inside his house in the 2600 block of Edison Highway.

Saturday, 12:01 a.m.: Man, 51, found fatally shot in the stomach in the 3100 block of Grantley Ave.

Saturday, 2:19 a.m.: A 42-year-old man reported being shot in the ankle while being robbed in the 300 block of N. High St. at Old Town Mall. He walked into the Central District police station on East Baltimore Street to report his wounds.

Saturday, 8:15 p.m.: Daryll Hood, 22, fatally shot in the head one block from his home in the 4700 block of Shamrock Ave. in Belair-Edison.

Saturday, 8:53 p.m.: Travis Lane, 19, found with bullet wounds to the side and chest in an alley off the 3500 block of N. Calvert St. in Oakenshawe. Police say this shooting is related to the shooting 20 minutes earlier in Belair-Edison. Lane was pronounced dead at Union Memorial Hospital.

Saturday, 11:49 p.m.: James Ingram, 46, found shot multiple times in the 3000 block of Pressbury St. Pronounced dead on the scene.

Sunday, 1:42 a.m.: Dennis Waddell, 33, fatally shot in the 1600 block of Warwick Ave. in Coppin Heights. A 28-year-old was shot and wounded in same incident.

Sunday, 4:47 p.m.: Police find a man in his early 50s dead inside a vacant rowhouse in the 800 block N. Fremont Ave. in Harlem Park. A cause of death has not yet been determined.

Sunday, 6 p.m.: A 35-year-old man was stabbed in the 3800 block of Rogers Ave. in Pimlico. Police said he had been mowing his lawn at his house when a man got out of a car and stabbed him in the chest, arm and back. He was being treated at an area hospital.

Sunday, 9 p.m.: A man shot in the ankle in the 3300 block of Ingleside Ave.

Monday, 9:25 a.m.: An adult male is shot in the head and killed in back of rowhouses in the 2600 block of Shirley Ave. in Park Heights.

Source: Baltimore Police Department

October 11, 2010

Another violent weekend in Baltimore -- 5 dead

Six shooting this weekend left five people dead and three more injured.

Friday, just before midnight: 46-year-old man fatally shot inside a house in the 3000 block of Pressbury St.

Saturday, 12:01 a.m. A 51-year-old man fatally shot in the stomach in the 3100 block of Grantley Ave.

Saturday, early morning: A 33-year-old man was shot and killed on Warwick Avenue in Coppin Heights. A 28-year-old man was shot and injured in the same incident.

Saturday morning: A 42-year-old man said he had been robbed and shot at Old Town Mall. He walked into the Central District police station and was taken to a hospital for treatment.

Saturday, 8:15 p.m.: 22-year-old man fatally shot in the head in the 4700 block of Shamrock Ave. in Belair-Edison.

Saturday,  8:53 p.m.: man fatally shot in an alley in the 3500 block of N. Calvert St. in Oakenshawe. Police say this shooting might be related to the one on Shamrock.

Sunday, 9:30 p.m.: man shot in the ankle in the 3300 block of Ingleside Ave. 

On Sunday evening, Baltimore police said a man was stabbed on Rogers Avenue and that he was being treated at a hospital. And Sunday morning in Anne Arundel County, a man was reported shot and wounded in Severn.

September 22, 2010

Fixing a playground to rid community of crime

The caretaker of Ark Church, Milton Hill is gone -- killed two months ago, police say, for his scooter -- but on Tuesday the parishioners joined with the cops who joined with the neighbors to spruce up a park near the church that had become an open-air drug market.

At left, Monica Lopossay captures Carolyn Jasper cleaning up the park.

It's one of those stories we've seen time and time again. Even the residents are a bit skeptical -- Carolyn Pitt told reporter Jessica Anderson, "They are doing a great job, but we don't know how long it's going to last."

Just Monday on East Preston Street, a man and woman were shot, and the Eastern District now leads the city with 32 slayings so far this year. And so the community joined forces as part of "Operation Good Faith" to clean up Aiken Playground.

The question remains, as always, what happens next. Hours later in West and Northeast Baltimore, three more people were shot.

As Jessica wrote:

While a set of rusted monkey bars and two worn wooden jungle gyms remained, a fresh coat of green, yellow and orange paint was left to dry on a playground wall.

Sylvester Toles, a member of the Ark Church, admitted he wasn't excited about the cleanup at first, after a long day at a moving company. But the 54-year-old said "the preacher wanted us to do it for the kids, to make it presentable for the kids. Somebody's got to show that somebody cares," he said.

As he worked up a sweat, he said, "I feel like I've accomplished something." (photo at left by Monica Lopossay).
Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Confronting crime, East Baltimore, Neighborhoods
        

September 20, 2010

Victim meets his shooter -- years later

Baltimore is indeed a small town.

Just read Justin Fenton's story today on how a shooting victim met the man who shot him as they both recovered in a rehab center. Cops never learned of the confession from suspect to victim until after both had died from their injuries.

The result -- a shooting case cleared but another name from the past to add to this years murder count.

Here's Justin's enticing opening:

It took 21 years for a bullet to kill Michael Chase.

It took 14 years for a bullet to kill Franklin Spencer.

And it took both of their deaths — six years apart — for investigators to figure out what one had to do with the other.
A relative who recalled a conversation said Spencer had shot Chase by accident. Both had lived in the same neighborhood.

September 16, 2010

Tired of campaign signs? Get used to it

Okay, so the election is over -- though ironically the fight for the city's top prosecutor trudges along -- but isn't soon time to pick up the campaign signs? I know it's only two days since we (well, less than a third of us) went to the polls, but these signs are already feeling like the lawn chairs that guarded spaces long after the snow storms pulled away.

Trouble is, unlike the lawn chairs, which are technically illegal, there is nothing to prevent a trounced candidate from keeping his sign up, well, forever. Counties and other local jurisdictions tried with a variety of laws to force candidates to remove their signs within a week of elections or not put them up more than two months before.

At left is a scene on York Road just north of Northern Parkway where a day after the election campaign signs were already in disrepair.

But a federal judge ruled three years that's a violation of free speech. Zoning laws can restrict the sign and somewhat the placement of signs, but it can't single campaign signs out for special treatment. Government can't regulate the speech, and that includes how long the speech can be posted.

Many jurisdictions, including Baltimore City and Baltimore County, have the restrictive laws on the books, but the Attorney General's Office warns the local governments that they can't be enforced. I checked with both the city and the county, and indeed, they're aware of the ruling.

So if you want to complain about signs, call your local candidate.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:38 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

September 15, 2010

Bar where cop busted complains about police

My new colleague over at the Midnight Sun blog, Erik Maza, reports that the owners of a bar where a city cop was busted early Sunday during a fight in the parking lot has been complaining about what they call police harassment.

Kind of ironic in a way that the owners of Club Reality on Washington Boulevard think the cops are singling them out for scrutiny and the one time police wade in to break up a fight it involves one of their own. It's the police who ended up more shamed than the bar.

In this case, police were directing traffic outside the venue when they heard a commotion and then saw a woman hit a man. That man, it turns out, was a city police officer who had been suspended last year after getting arrested for allegedly driving drunk off a police station parking lot.

Anyway, here is some of what Maza found while researching the bar-end of this bar fight:

Continue reading "Bar where cop busted complains about police" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:41 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods, West Baltimore
        

September 8, 2010

Stabbings in the "militarized zones" between neighborhoods

The first thing that struck me was how young these juvenile suspects appeared in their adult mugshots. I'm used to seeing teens charged as adults, but the two 14-year-old boys and the 16-year-old girl charged with stabbing a man on on Maryland Avenue Monday afternoon looked liked they belonged in elementary school.

The daylight attack near Penn Station and the University of Baltimore Law School once again raised questions about the safety of the swath of real estate between Mid-Town Belvedere south of North Avenue and Charles Village to the north. The area is targeted for revitalization, with the Station North arts district and all, but the stretch still seems a no-mans land that could link two vibrant city neighborhoods.

Today's story on the stabbings repeats some of these concerns raised earlier when Stephen Pitcairn was fatally stabbed on St. Paul Street in Charles Village while walking home from a bus at Penn Station. The latest victim on Monday was walking south.

The suspects charged in his case are charged with attempted first-degree murder and several other crimes. Police identified them as Keith Omar Anderson, 14, of Glen Burnie (at left in photos); Lawrence Antonio Horton Jr., 14, of East Baltimore (in the middle); and Daysha Wilson, 16, of East Baltimore.

Here is some chilling accounts from the police report and court charging documents:

Continue reading "Stabbings in the "militarized zones" between neighborhoods " »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:31 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Neighborhoods, North Baltimore
        

August 24, 2010

Police to address attacks on Latinos

City officials are planning a news conference in Patterson Park to address growing concerns by Latinos that they are being targeted. The latest victim is Martin Reyes, who was beaten to death with a board. His cousin was shot in the forehead in July.

The attack on Reyes (left) appears to be by a mentally unstable man who has been arrested and charged and told police he hated "Mexicans." All the victims have been Honduran. Police think some of the victims were robbed because they are easy targets -- carry cash, are walking home late at night from work and are scared of immigration.

The Sun's Nick Madigan found this out about Reyes:

Reyes, who had spent most of the past decade in Baltimore, had six children, most of whom remained in Honduras. One daughter was adopted, and another, Norma, lives a few blocks from the room he rented in a rowhouse on Kenwood Avenue. His 35-year-old son-in-law, Pedro Concepción Diaz Aguilar, shared his space.

"When he was in Honduras, he liked to work with cattle and horses, in agriculture," Diaz Aguilar said Monday as he tried to raise money to send Reyes' body home. "And he dealt in grains and beans — wheat, coffee, frijoles — which he'd buy and resell. He'd move a lot of stuff. Here, it was different. We'd work together, remodeling kitchens, making cabinets — laborers' work."

Another Honduran who knew Reyes said he was "calm and humble," and a good friend. "He never interfered with anybody," said Eberto Funez, 42, who has been in East Baltimore for four years. "When he died, he was just coming from visiting a relative, and unfortunately his number came up."

Miguel Gutierrez, 33, said he had known Reyes since he was a child growing up in the same village, San Antonio, in La Paz, near Honduras' border with El Salvador. Gutierrez said he had come to Baltimore six months ago from Houston at Reyes' urging, and had lived with the older man for a time until he found his own place.

"He's known me since I was a baby," Gutierrez said. "He was always a gentleman, and gave me good advice. He'd say I shouldn't go around drinking, and that I shouldn't be out in the streets."

Here's how the suspect, Jermaine Holley, was out of jail at the time of the killing:

Continue reading "Police to address attacks on Latinos" »

August 19, 2010

Man in critical condition in Bolton Hill shooting

A 22-year-old man was shot overnight in Bolton Hill, police said, and he remained in critical condition after surgery.

The shooting took place shortly after midnight on the 1700 block of Park Avenue, that's just a couple blocks south of the Madison Park apartments, which the mayor and housing commissioner this week said would have its license revoked due to ongoing violence. Two people have been killed there this year.

 

Posted by Justin Fenton at 9:47 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

August 16, 2010

Housing commissioner moves to revoke apartment complex license

Baltimore officials are trying to revoke the license of an apartment landlord in the city's Reservoir Hill neighborhood and move residents out of the 202 units, a rare step aimed at stamping out drug activity and violence, The Sun's Jamie Smith Hopkins reports.

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said he issued a notice late Monday of his intent to revoke the license of the Madison Park North Apartments in the 700 block of W. North Ave. A hearing is scheduled for September to determine the fate of the property and its residents, many of whom would be relocated with government assistance if the license is pulled.

Neighbors call the complex "murder mall," said Saundra Matthews, who lives nearby. "It's terrible," she said, listing off incidents in the area: robbery, fights, killing. "You've got to go there in the daytime."

Posted by Justin Fenton at 9:33 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

August 12, 2010

He ate, he drank and skipped on the bill

Here's what Andew Palmer ate at Burke's Cafe on Light Street: Buffalo wings ($11.80) and nine Blue Moon draft beers: $40.05.

At Shucker's Restaurant on Thames Street: three glasses of Tanqueray gin ($18); two bottles of Corona ($7.50); 1 Johnny Walker Black Label scotch ($7.50); one Heinekin ($3.75); and one pound of steamed shrimp ($23.66).

Palmer did this for year, all over Baltimore, and he skipped the bill by pretending to have a seizure and being rushed to the hospital.

He often got arrested but rarely did he spend more than 90 days in jail. Finally this month, a prosecutor took note of his extensive record -- 89 arrests in Baltimore and beyond, more than 40 convictions -- and consolidated the cases into one theft scheme. Palmer pleaded guilty and got the maximum -- 18 months in jail.

Authorities only know about the place he got caught. How many restaurant managers did what the good folks at Ding How restaurant in Fells Point did when their customer went into "convulsions" when he got his $40 tab. Said prosecutor Scott Richman: "They didn't want to stick him with the bill as he was on his way out the door in an ambulance."

Here is the police charging document:

Continue reading "He ate, he drank and skipped on the bill" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:34 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Crime elsewhere, Downtown, Neighborhoods
        

August 8, 2010

Arrests, judges and justice

Today's stories on a crime meeting in Charles Village in the wake of the fatal stabbing of Johns Hopkins researcher Stephen Pitcairn and the Crime Beat column on yet another lenient sentence, this time for a man convicted of robbing a woman at knife-point at an ATM, prompted this response from a retired Baltimore police commander:

Continue reading "Arrests, judges and justice" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:56 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods, Top brass
        

August 6, 2010

Upper Fells Point attacks -- a victim's viewpoint

A series of attacks in Upper Fells Point, at least two involving groups of 8 to 10 youths who are beating and robbing people, has unnerved this Southeast Baltimore neighborhood. Police say they're investigating one attack as a possible hate crime -- one man shouted "[Expletive] you white boy" as he hit the victim.

But one of the people targeted, Mark Simone, also happens to be a real estate agent. I found that particularly interesting because he sells houses in the city, meaning he must champion it, and how he faces the same issues others have been complaining about -- whether the city is safe enough to inhabit.

Simone told me he still feels safe and he likes city living, but now he and his wife are considering getting a gun and that he no longer snjoys the same sense of security. Here's the full story on the beatings, and here is Mark Simone in his own words about living in Baltimore:

"It was the scariest moment I've ever had. ... We're not going anywhere. But we definitely don't feel as comfortable in our own home as we did before. … We had a sense of security here which is totally gone."

"Some people feel comfortable in different elements. That's the important part, for people to feel comfortable where they are living. ... I am passionate about Baltimore and I'm not going to let a group of kids change that.

"We've talked about getting a gun. I think we're going to get one now. These guys have my ID. They have my license. They know where I live. I'm not a big guy. There's not much I can do to defend myself without having a weapon.

"If people ask if I've been attacked, I'm not going to lie. But I'm not going to be a walking advertisement for the dangers of city living."

Loiterers go elsewhere -- or get splashed

Keeping loiterers off rowhouse steps is a never-ending battle for cops and homeowners, and it's not news that many put signs in their windows warning people to get off their property. Many are directed at drug dealers.

But while I was out interviewing people about a killing of a man in a lawn chair on East Lafayette Avenue last week, I couldn't help but notice water pouring off a nearby rooftop and onto the marble steps below.

Neighbors told me that the homeowner (who I was never able to reach) positioned a rooftop air conditioner so that it discharged water three stories to the steps below. Without warning, anyone who has the misfortune to be sitting on the steps at that moment gets soaked.

That peaked my interest and I drove around the city looking for innovative ways people devise to keep their steps clear. I didn't find anything like the splashing water, but I did find some rather interesting signs, which are here for your amusement. 

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:41 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

August 5, 2010

Fells Point attacks; one ruled hate crime

Concern is growing in Upper Fells Point as police search for suspects in a series of attacks and robberies, one of which has been classifieid as a hate crime. Johns Hopkins, which as offices in the neighborhood, has issued an alert to its employees.

The Sun's Justin Fenton reports today:

Police said there have been four attacks involving males who were thrown to the ground and punched and kicked while walking alone after dark. In at least one case, a handgun was displayed, and cell phones and other property were taken.

At least one of the attacks was being investigated as a hate crime and others could be, as well, according to police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. A 24-year-old recruiter at an information technology staffing company was walking in the 300 block of S. Ann St. about 9:35 p.m. Tuesday when he saw a group of black males between the ages of 16 and 19, according to a police report.

He walked past the group and was followed. One of the suspects wrapped his arms around the man's throat and forced him to the ground, and the group beat him on the head and body, the report says. The victim told police that the suspects repeatedly used an expletive and referred to him as "white boy." They took his cell phone and $100 in cash.

Here is the Hopkins alert:

Continue reading "Fells Point attacks; one ruled hate crime" »

August 4, 2010

City Hall says fear of crime matters

I have repeatedly in my Crime Scenes articles talked about how people's fears about crime negate statistics showing people shouldn't be afraid. After all, crime is down to 20 year lows in some categories.

City leaders, then as in the past, love to blame the media for hyping crime beyond proportion. And yes, one sensational crime -- the stabbing of the Hopkins researcher or virtually anything that happens at the Inner Harbor -- can shatter people's peace of mind. The picture at left by The Sun's Justin Fenton is from a recent shooting in East Baltimore of a church caretaker.

The shooting at the Hilton Tuesday night stemmed from a domestic argument confined to a room, but because it happened in one of the city's premier hotels, it gets attention. It can only solidify Baltimore's bad reputation when tourists see police rushing into the hotel and taking someone out on a stretcher and another out in handcuffs.

If you visit another city for the first time and see police swarm the primary shopping street, you might conclude the city is unsafe and you'll never visit again, even if that was the first time something bad happened in the past decade. Similarly, people call the newsroom all the time saying they saw three police cars speed by their house and that's evidence crime is out of control.

It's difficult because fear can't be quantified. And even if the fear is unjustified or irrational, it's still there and still has a negative effect. Combating it is nearly impossible, and citing stats virtually useless.

Today, I wrote about how these same issues were in play 36 years ago. On Sunday, I wrote about how two neighborhoods dealt with separate killings. I also received an e-mail from Ian T. Brennan, one of the spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. This is what he had to say:

Continue reading "City Hall says fear of crime matters" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:21 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: City Hall, Neighborhoods
        

August 2, 2010

National Night Out in Baltimore

Tuesday is National Night Out, an effort to rally residents to fight crime and show solidarity to take back their streets. Earlier posts have detailed schedules for surrounding counties. Here is a list of what is planned in Baltimore City (for more details, contact local police district):

Continue reading "National Night Out in Baltimore" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:58 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Scared, worried about crime

The killings last week of the Johns Hopkins researcher, Stephen Pitcairn, and the church worker, Milton Hill, has generated lots of comments. Some noted another killing in Station North, of Emmauuel Thomas, who police said was a witness in another nearby killiing.

These two e-mails stood out.

From Emily Chalmers:

I too was saddened by the death of Emmanuel Thomas, as I was grieved by the deaths of Stephen Pitcairn, Milton Hill, the security guard shot at the Greenmount takeout, the Comcast installer shot in his van, Zach Sowers, the two gay women shot in their home in NE Baltimore, the young man shot in Bolton Hill while walking his dog, the woman shot on her way home from work in NE Baltimore, and all the others who have died. I try to remember them all, though most of them died without the kind of coverage the most recent murder has received.
 
I think the difference with Stephen Pitcairn, as with Zach Sowers, was that these young men had loving families, professional networks, and wide circles of friends. They also died in communities where people will speak up and express outrage. Many people who are murdered don’t die under these circumstances, and their deaths do not result in the kind of outrage and tributes we are seeing now.

For more of her letter:
 

Continue reading "Scared, worried about crime" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:46 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

August 1, 2010

Communities fight crime in National Night Out

Residents all over the state and country are being urged to wear blue on Tuesday and turn porch lights on as part of a campaign to raise awareness about crime. Called National Night Out, it's an effort to draw people into  the fight.

I'm trying to compile a full list of activities and thus far I've gotten information from Baltimore and Howard counties. I'll post Howard's in a separate blog, as the one from Baltimore County police is quite extensive:

The Baltimore County Police Department along with elected officials, local celebrities and County civic groups will mark the 27th anniversary of National Night Out on Tuesday, August 3. Last year, more than 36 million people in over 14,625 communities nationwide came together to strengthen the police-community partnership against crime.

A new feature to this year’s events is the “Show Us Your Blue” campaign. Pull something navy blue out of your closet and wear it all day to show your support for law enforcement. Put a blue light bulb in your porch light and turn it on from 6 to 11 p.m. on August 3 as a peaceful way to display your participation on National Night Out.

If you own a business, you can invite neighborhood children to draw posters or design window displays with crime prevention messages for your store front windows. String blue holiday lights on your patio. Light blue candles in your window to show your support. Put blue gels in building lights to cast a bright blue hue all over Baltimore County.

We know you are out there, and that you care about making your communities as safe as possible. Use this day to show criminals that they are not welcome on your block!

Choose one of the events listed below to network with your neighbors, or start a tradition of your own. Be as creative as you can be, and be sure to take lots of pictures to send them to your precinct’s Community Outreach Officer to be included in a special feature in the next Behind the Badge newsletter.

For details about what's going on in your community:

Continue reading "Communities fight crime in National Night Out" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:44 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

July 29, 2010

Fake victim scamming Bolton Hill residents

Baltimore has enough real criminals out there, we certainly don't need fake ones.

But that's just what's happening in Bolton Hill, according to a community Internet message board, which describes encounters with a man pretending to have been mugged and then asks for money:

Several Bolton Hill residents have reported they have been approached by a man informing them he had just been mugged. Each story is almost identical. He states he was just mugged. His phone, wallet and other belongings were stolen. He says he gave a report jto the police. He sometimes asks for a glass of water then asks for money to hold him over with the promise of a payback. Several residents have given him money. He lives in Bolton Hill and is a familiar face to many residents.

His identity has been reported to the police. If approached by anyone saying they were mugged, call the police immediately.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:13 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

July 28, 2010

Charles Village residents, city officials converge at stabbing site

Marc Unger had had enough. The comedian and Charles Village resident was standing at the foot of a memorial for Stephen Pitcairn, the Hopkins student slain near Unger's home Sunday, listening as politicians took turns making remarks when Unger boiled over with frustration.

"We are in fear!" Unger yelled, interrupting Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.

Unger described how he was asked by police to try to identify the body, and how he hasn't been able to get the image out of his head. He chastised a police spokesman for calling the stabbing an "isolated incident," pointing out that another man was killed a block away earlier this year. (The spokesman has since clarified that he meant that Pitcairn wasn't targeted). He said what happened to Pitcairn could've happened to anyone living or passing through the neighborhood.

Politicians promoted the event as a show of solidarity, a press conference where each to go before the cameras and call for an end to violence. But dozens of residents showed up, standing on either side of the podium, with the intention of expressing their concerns, and some grew increasingly frustrated at the lack of substantive talk. After all, there have been two other such events nearby this year alone, along Greenmount Avenue (after a 72-year-old Afro newspaper employee was shot at a carryout) and in Guilford (after a resident was robbed and locked in his own trunk).

Continue reading "Charles Village residents, city officials converge at stabbing site" »

A former Pigtown resident's lament

Just days before the robbery and fatal stabbing of Stephen Pitcairn, Rick Gilbert's story in Pigtown was making waves.

Gilbert was attacked last month outside his home, given two black eyes, a broken nose and disregarded by police officers who were called to the scene. Within weeks, he left Baltimore. His story was told in a YouTube video posted by the Washington Village Development Association and generated some news coverage.  The theme: Drug dealers chase out city resident.

Gilbert e-mailed me today wanting to tell the story in his own words. He says he had a "For Rent" sign in his window for weeks before the attack as he planned a move out west to Portland, Oregon - a decision fueled as much by stalled economic development and community groups that he felt didn't have his best interests as heart as any thump on the head from neighborhood thugs. 

Ten years ago he bought and fixed up a home on West Ostend Street and Washington Boulevard, a young aspiring entrepreneur willing to take a chance and open to mixing with people of different backgrounds and social status. He played football with neighbors and started a skate program for area kids while building a business.

But as rehab projects around him went off track, the quieting of jackhammers amplified the police sirens in the neighborhood and he gradually became disillusioned. To be sure, the June 27 attack and the police response were crucial moments, he says. But he says his story has become colored with the agendas of others.

I'll let Rick tell it himself after the jump in the piece he sent me, edited for length and some content. The first half is about the most recent incident, but with the rest he waxes poetic on his decade as a city resident:

Continue reading "A former Pigtown resident's lament" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 3:05 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Neighborhoods, South Baltimore
        

Officials pass blame on Charles Village stabbing

For anyone interested in dissecting the criminal cases involving the suspects charged in the stabbing of Charles Village resident Stephen Pitcairn, The Sun's Justin Fenton's story today is a must read.

It details how suspects Lavelva Merritt and John Alexander Wagner seems to skate through the criminal justice system, to the point where even Baltimore's mayor questions whether the male suspect should've been out on the street.

In one sense, it's a familiar tale of opportunities lost and thrown away, about a reluctant witness who refused to testify in an earlier robbery and about prosecutors who then ditched the case. Whose fault is that?

Above, in a picture by The Sun's Kenneth K. Lam, Joshua Eicher, part of a street-cleaning crew with the Charles Village Community Benefits District, pauses from his work to look at flowers and birthday cake left at a makeshift memorial in the 2600 block of St. Paul St.

The tragic death of Pitcairn, an aspiring Johns Hopkins research assistant who was working on stem cells and breast cancer, will be felt in Baltimore for years to come. Immediately, it will serve as a reminder of a criminal justice system that if not broken is badly in need of reform. It will provide fodder for what could be a volatile race for state's attorney (see earlier blog to get an idea of the fight ahead).

Here is just a few revelations that Justin's story explores:

•Wagner pleaded guilty to a vicious assault on his then-girlfriend in 2008 and received eight years in prison, but the entire sentence was suspended. He was charged with violating his probation on four occasions, but each time a city judge ordered that the terms of his supervision remain unchanged.

•In April, Wagner was caught on city surveillance cameras robbing a man at a downtown gas station and was arrested at the scene after the victim gave a detailed account and identified his attacker. But the victim later got skittish and refused to cooperate. Prosecutors dropped the case.

•And on July 22, a Baltimore County judge issued an arrest warrant for Wagner for violating his probation in a 2009 car theft conviction. But it was added to a backlog of tens of thousands of unserved warrants.

July 14, 2010

Police group walks through East Baltimore

I spent the morning walking in the rain with a few hundred police officers who have been visiting Baltimore for the annual National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

As they traditionally do at the end of every meeting, they walk though a neighborhood that most needs police. They ended with a memorial service at Israel Baptist Church to honor fallen police officers. The next Crime Scenes column will have more on the march and the meeting. Here are some pictures to enjoy from walk along East Biddle Street from the Baltimore Sun's Jed Kirschbaum.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 2:44 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: East Baltimore, Neighborhoods, Top brass
        

June 19, 2010

Break-in at Bush's South Baltimore rowhouse

Baltimore police are confirming a break-in at Jenna Bush Hager's rowhouse in South Baltimore.

And an intense search is now for the bikes owned by former President Bush's daughter and her husband that includes officers from the Southern District and detectives assigned to the Regional Auto Theft Task Force.

Police confirmed today that cops responded to the Charles Street rowhouse for a burglar alarm but didn't find anything amiss. The alarm company called the Hager's, who were out of town, and they asked a neighbor to check. That's when they found the bicycles missing from a rear garage. Police then noticed two small pry marks on a back garage door.

Police described one bicycle as a men's black and red Trek Fuel-style worth $2,500 and a female blue Trek worth $1,000. Baltimore Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said nothing else was taken and the burglars did not get into the rowhouse.

The couple had Secret Service protection when the initially moved to the neighborhood. But Guglielmi said the couple, who are now married, no longer have that protection.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:51 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Breaking news, Neighborhoods, South Baltimore
        

June 17, 2010

City cops make gun busts

Baltimore police have taken a bunch of guns off city streets this week, bringing the yearly total to 979 illegal weapons and more than 400 arrests.

Here is a look at some of the seizures made since Sunday:

A man at Water and Gay streets, near City Hall and Police Headquarters, was arrested with a loaded handgun on Sunday. That same day, police said they executed a search warrant in the 600 block of Wildwood Parkway in Southwest Baltimore and found a shotgun.

On Tuesday, police arrested a man in the 500 block of N. Ellwood Ave. and charged with illegally possessing a loaded .40 caliber handgun. On Tuesday, cops arrested another man with a loaded handgun, this time in the 3200 block of Tivoly Ave. in Northeast. (less than an hour later, a man was fataly shot several times at North Fulton Avenue and West Lanvale Street in West Baltimore.

Also on Tuesday, police arrested two more people and seized a loaded handgun and drugs at one location and then, at another in the 600 block of East 41st St., they arrested a 37-year-old man carrying a lodaded handgun.

On Wednesday, police arrested a 21-year-old man in the 200 block of N. Monroe St. on a burglary charge. Police said he also was carrying a loaded handgun.

And earlier today, a 17-year-old was reported shot during a fistfight in Northwest Baltimore.

 

June 5, 2010

Police update shooting outside bar

Baltimore police have updated details surrounding the police-involved shooting from earlier today outside Eden Lounge the Mount Vernon, Mid-Town Belvedere neighborhood. At this point, it does not look good for the officer involved.

At left, Maj. Terrence McLarney, head of the homicide unit, joins police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi in briefing reporters at a 7 a.m. news conference. Here are some new details:

An-off duty Baltimore police officer repeatedly shot and killed an unarmed man who witnesses said  groped the officer’s female companion outside a Mount Vernon nightclub early Saturday, a shooting that top department commanders say they find troubling.

While police said numerous witnesses confirmed that the victim had physically and inappropriately touched the woman and fought the officer, spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said detectives have “not been able to find a concrete motive” as to why the officer felt he needed to take out his weapon and fire.

The victim, identified as East Baltimore resident Tyrone Brown, 32, was shot at least six times in the chest and groin, according to the police spokesman. The officer, a 15-year veteran assigned to the Eastern District patrol division, fired his department issued Glock handgun at least 13 times, officials said.

Deputy Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale has been ordered to be “intimately involved in the investigation.” A police spokesman said the officer refused to make a statement and declined to submit to a breath test to determine whether he had been drinking alcohol.

For more:

Continue reading "Police update shooting outside bar" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:55 AM | | Comments (6)
        

June 3, 2010

Anger over dirt bikes

Wednesday's crash involving a dirt bike -- in which a passenger then assaulted the driver of a car the dirt bike hit after going through a red light -- has sparked complaints from across the city. It was the second dirt bike crash in a week. Earlier, a motorcyclist was killed when he hit a pole after swerving to a avoid a dirt bike whose driver was carrying a child.

In the picture from The Sun's Jed Kirschbaum, Dale Truelock of Cherry Hill Towing rolls the dirtbike damaged in the accident from place where police found it had been hidden after the accident.

There's a video documentary on Baltimore dirt bike riders on YouTube called Wildout Wheelie Boyz.

The out-of-control antics of the dirt bike packs have police stymied once againt. They're forbidden from chasing them because it's too dangerous, and thus the riders have turned some city streets into zones of anarchy.

At a town hall forum sponsored by the City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, a group of dirt bike riders actually said it's better for them to be out running the streets -- even though the dirt bikes aren't registered and are illegal -- than to have them standing on street corners getting into trouble.

Here is another perspective from resident Bryan Canary, who sent this e-mail to me:

I live right next to Camden Yards in Ridgely's Delight...and every Sunday night at 7pm (plus or minus 10 minutes) the roar of motor bikes/dirt bikes can be heard coming into town on Russell Street...
 
Years ago when I lived in Federal Hill I was always amazed at all the junkies that would come out around 7pm....and I was finally enlightened by one of them......7pm is the time for a major shift change for folks on patrol.....

For more of his email:

Continue reading "Anger over dirt bikes" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:39 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Confronting crime, Downtown, Neighborhoods
        

June 1, 2010

Bealefeld: Weekend violence stemmed from "petty neighborhood disputes"

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said the weekend violence that saw eight people killed and another five wounded in shootings was generally the result of "minor, petty neighborhood disputes that got out of control."

"Some of these things are beyond the control and the scope of [police] deployments," he said. "...They're not easily solved by saying, 'We're going to put a zillion cops on the street.' We have to be smart about our deployments and focus where we can get the maximum returns."

Providing new details about some of the crimes, Bealefeld said a double-homicide in the Southwest District on Sunday stemmed from an argument at a street corner cookout that "devolved into a fight between a 30 year old man and a woman who was at the party and went home and alerted relatives that had access to cheap, semi-automatic weapons and went back to settle the score themselves."

"Two men ended up losing their lives over a stupid argument - some hair-pulling and a minor assault led to two people being dead," Bealefeld said.

Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake said "we have to have the ability to get together, to enjoy ourselves over the holiday without it turning into fights ... arguments that turn into shootings."

"We have to want more for ourselves in our community than this type of lawlessness. It's going to take the community working with our police to make that happen."

Bealefeld said he was more concerned by Sunday's two killings along the Monument Street corridor, where police have focused more resources in the past year. Two men were shot and killed within blocks and over the span of about 45 minutes. Bealefeld indicated one suspect was responsible for both shootings.

"The Monument Street cases certainly have us evaluating what we could have done better," he said. "When you have two street disturbances, two street fights that lead to two deaths in an hour of each other and with one common suspect, there's some breakdowns there."

Continue reading "Bealefeld: Weekend violence stemmed from "petty neighborhood disputes"" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 12:55 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: City Hall, East Baltimore, Neighborhoods, Top brass
        

May 31, 2010

City cops probe several shootings; 10 shot, 7 dead over holiday weekend

Update: Police tell me that the two shooting victims from Ramsay Street died. That brings the holiday weekend total to 10 shootings with seven dead. That includes the latest fatal shooting this morning on Loch Raven Boulevard in Northeast Baltimore.

Update 2: Police are reporting that a man was stabbed to death at about 6:15 p.m. Monday in the 4800 block of Truesdale Ave, in the Northeast District's Frankford neighborhood. The three-day death toll is now at eight, the deadliest such stretch of the year. 

Baltimore police are investigating a spate of shooting over this violent holiday weekend, including three that occurred in a brieft span in East Baltimore adnd three others within a few hours and a few blocks in Carrollton Ridge.

Sunday evening, a man was shot and killed on Ramsay Street. A few hours later, two other men were shot (their conditions are not yet known, but homicide detectives were called to the scene). This is the same beleagured neighbhood in which 5-year-old Raven Wyatt was found shot and wounded last year, and the scene of a large community walk with the mayor and police to take back their streets.

The Baltimore Sun's Tricia Bishop just updated that sad tale with news that lawyers for the recently convicted shooter are appealing because they believe prosecutors and a former defense attorney overstated the number of times the suspect had violated his home detention (he was GPS monitoring).

Last year, I walked through the neighborhood twice (once when the mayor came, along with hundreds of angry and concerned residents) and a second time a few weeks later (when hardly anyone showed up).

The Southwestern District's Police Community Relations Council, led by Steve Herlth, is very active with community Citizen on Patrol Walks. And Connie Fowler, the longtime community leader there, has been vocal about violence for years.

May 7, 2010

Michael Vick says he fought dogs in Baltimore

Michael Vick came to Baltimore to rehabilitate himself after his conviction on dog fighting charges in Virginia that sent him to prison for 18 months. For the first time, he admitted to attending a dog fight in an abandon house somewhere in the city.

The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback -- who was an Atlanta Falcons at the time the charges were brought -- spoke to kids at the Baltimore juvenile detention center. He told them he didn't know why he fought dogs.

Vick was speaking at an event organize by the Humane Society of the United States, and he met with about 35 people. Before this, the only Baltimore connection Vick and this sordid story was that some of the dogs seized from his Bad Newz Kennels -- where dogs were electrocuted and hanged -- had come to Baltimore through a rescue mission (video of Vick's talk).

The last time Vick was in Baltimore was to pick up an award, and was met with protesters.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:22 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

May 4, 2010

MICA student attacked

The Maryland Institute College of Art in Bolton Hill put out this campus alert Monday evening:

At approximately 11:15 p.m. on Saturday 5/1/2010 a MICA student was walking on the 200 block of West Lanvale Street when she passed two unknown males that asked her for the time. They began following her and after quickly closing the distance they held her against a wall, struck her, showed a handgun and tried to pull her bag away. Her calls for help were answered by neighbors that came out to investigate thereby causing the suspects to flee. Baltimore City Police and Campus Safety responded quickly and searched the area. Suspects have not been apprehended in this incident.

Suspects were described as:
Male, Black (light completion), late twenties in age, 6’ tall, slender build, wearing a dark brown hoody with blue stripes, light blue jeans and white sneakers.

Male, Black, late twenties in age, 5’6”, wearing a dark colored hoody with yellow circular text on the front and blue jeans.

Continue reading "MICA student attacked " »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:54 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Breaking news, Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

April 28, 2010

A mother's loss

Cherand Monroe raised two children and lost them both to Baltimore violence.

Sadly, that is not unusual.

Both her childrens' killers have been convicted of their crimes. And that, even sadder still, is what makes this case unusual.

I've spent too many years writing about justice undone, talking to families waiting for killers to be found, about cases unsolved, about killers roaming free and gunmen taking lives. On Friday, jurors took just three hours to convict the man of raping and brutally stabbing Jerrisha Burton as she drove to a friend's house in Northeast Baltimore 12 years ago. She was 18 years old

Burton's brother, Michael LeMaris Simms (in photo), was killed nine years later, also at the age of 18, shortly after becoming a Marine reservist. He stepped in to help his friends in a fight near Butcher's Hill and got stabbed.

His killer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and spent two years in prison. Burton's killer. Ernest Roy Rivers, is to be sentenced in May and could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Continue reading "A mother's loss" »

April 13, 2010

Home invasions on the rise

The Baltimore's Suns police beat reporter Justin Fenton writes today that home invasion robberies are on the rise in Baltimore. There are some great details in the story, including one robbery who wore a skull cap with "superman" written on the side and another who told his victims to "have a nice day" as he left:

Residential robberies were up 34 percent through April 3, compared with same period a year ago. It's the only category of crime on the rise. Homicides, rapes and overall robberies are down by double-digit percentages, according to police.

Police say they can't pinpoint any driving force behind the uptick, and they aren't ready to blame a still-struggling economy or drug activity. The increase is being felt across the city, but most heavily in Northwest Baltimore, which has notched 21 residential robberies compared with eight at this time last year.

Northeast Baltimore has seen the second highest-total, with 19, and the Southern District's total has doubled, to 14 from seven. Unlike a burglary, a residential robbery requires the presence of a victim in the home or business and the taking of property through force or fear. A burglary, also referred to as breaking and entering, does not involve an encounter with the owner and might not even entail theft.

March 17, 2010

Pub crawls and neighborhoods

I started my day with penny Guinness stouts at 6 in the morning.

Well, actually, I drank a cup of coffee and watched others do the drinking. I was at No Idea Tavern on South Hanover Street, where that special bled into a another special that later today will launch a four-bar pub crawl (money raised is supporting a local elementary school).

At left, Megan Brooks, 22, Catonsville, and Jason Royer, 24, Halethorpe, start the morning with a drink, in a picture by The Sun's Kim Hairston.

A stabbing a few weeks ago after a pub crawl along Fort Avenue has rewnewed discussion on whether such events can and should be regulated. South Baltimore neighborhood groups are seeking permits, while bar owners say it's impossible to regulate or permit people from hopping from one place to another. I'll have a more detailed story on this hot topic on Thursday.

The liquor board might try a compromise by requiring any liquor license holder to notify the board whenever it sponsors an event involving more than one licensee. But trying to regulate an impromptu party or even a pub crawl organized by a person would be next to impossible.

Neighborhood residents have legitimate concerns about bands of rowdy, drunken people roaming through neighborhoods, breaking planters and being loud in the early afternoons. Some are responsible, such as the Irish Stroll in Federal Hill this past weekend that attracted up to 3,000 poeple. Organizers hired extra police and paid to clean up the streets.

But the stabbing on Covington Street involving the Hitmen bar crawl -- which raised money for a flag football team -- prompted many concerns. While I was out at No Idea, bar owners and patrons said the same thing: it comes down to personal responsiblity. Don't overserve, for the bartenders, and act reasonable, for those indulging.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:51 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods, South Baltimore
        

March 4, 2010

Police link downtown shooting to nightclub

A shooting early this morning near the Inner Harbor at Lombard and Light streets is being blamed by city police on the Velvet Rope nightclub, saying the victims and suspect were involved in fight there and had been ejected.

The Redwood Street location has become one of the city's premiere clubs, hosting hip hop stars including Rick Ross, Lil Kim and Trey Songz. But it's also where just a week ago a small riot broke out when patrons angy that a concert had been oversold stormed the front doors, requiring 50 cops to come in to restore order (see picture at left, from city police). Now, after the shooting, city police are again calling for the club to be shut down; there is a liquor board hearing later this month where that could happen.

The question here, and in many other similar cases, is at what point does a nightclub stop being responsible for its patrons?

Continue reading "Police link downtown shooting to nightclub" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:38 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Breaking news, Confronting crime, Downtown, Neighborhoods
        

March 3, 2010

Pub crawls, permits and gentrification of Fort Avenue

Controversy after a stabbing along a Fort Avenue pub crawl this past weekend has raised questions about tensions in a neighborhood and gentrification, and now it seems there is an effort afoot to require pub crawls to get permits, according to Evan at the City That Breeds blog, who attended a community meeting on the topic last night. It seems a good time to revisit a story from a few years ago by former reporter John Woestendiek, who visited nearly every bar along the strip.

It's worth reading (expanded grafic and key) in light of what happend Saturday afternoon involving a pub crawl to raise money for a flag football team called the Hitmen. Two fights broke out, one ending in a participant stabbed three times in the back at East Fort and Covington, near a convenience store.

Continue reading "Pub crawls, permits and gentrification of Fort Avenue" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:25 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods, South Baltimore
        

February 24, 2010

Snow parking and violence -- a poll

A resident of Butcher's Hill, Jeffrey Schraeder, has taken an unscientific but interesting poll of his neighbors in regards to saving parking spaces and violence. With more snow on the way (see the Maryland Weather Blog), might make for some interesting reading. And for you policy wonks, it breaks down answers by political ailiation.

This comes just a week after Baltimore's mayor ended the sanctioned though illegal saving cleared parking spaces with furniture (pic at right from The Sun's Kim Hairston). Here are his results of the Saved Parking Spots Poll, in which 55 people responded:

“Marked” a spot 32.7% (18 respondents)
Would resort to violence or vandalism 9.3% (5 respondents)
Influenced by the Mayors decision to not uphold the law 21.8% (12 respondents)

Political affiliation:
Democrat 51.9% (27)
Republican 7.7% (4)
Independent 32.7% (17)
Liberal 25.0% (13)
Conservative 13.5% (7)
Liberal Democrats who would resort to violence or vandalism: 2 (40% of those who responded yes)
Republicans who would resort to violence or vandalism: None                                                Independents who would resort to violence or vandalism: 2 (40% of those who responded yes)

Continue reading "Snow parking and violence -- a poll" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:23 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Confronting crime, East Baltimore, Neighborhoods
        

February 9, 2010

Does crime fall when it snows?

It's always been the thought that crime drops as snow falls.

But take a look at Justin Fenton's story today and you might think othewise. Bottom line is, it's hard to say. Police say they respond to relatively more domestic disputes in snowstorms, but the total number of calls last weekend actually dropped in relation to calls from previous weekends. And people still kill each other and drugs dealers (at least the dedicated ones) still have customers. Two people were killed in this past weekend's storm -- one was a domestic, the other a bar fight. Four people were killed during December's 20-inch snow event.

Sgt. Bob Jagoe, who runs the Regional Auto Theft Task Force, reminds everyone NOT to leave their car running while they shovel or run inside the house. In the snow, he said four-wheel drive SUVs are disappearing.

"I think people sometimes think when it snows, everybody's in it together, we're all in this mess, and who would think of committing crime on such a beautiful day," Jagoe told Justin. "But it only takes a minute, and a running car is a perfect way to make a quick getaway."

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:34 AM | | Comments (1)
        

January 26, 2010

City rape investigated

Baltimore police are investigating the rape of a woman inside her home in Reservoir Hill, and are trying to determine whether it's related to a series of other attacks in recent months.

As you might remember, police are still searching for the person responsible for a series of East Baltimore assaults in which women were attacked at bus stops and raped in public places. Police have told us that in those attacks, they found the DNA profiles of at least two suspects but have not been able to make a match. After this weekend's attack, The Baltimore Sun's Liz Kay reports that police are expediting DNA and other forensic tests in their efforts to find a suspect.

Police have created a 24-hour tip line, 888-223-0033, for anyone with information on the attacks.

Here is some of Liz's story that is now posted on the Baltimore Sun's web site:

The woman was sleeping in her first-floor apartment in the 2400 block of Callow Ave. when she awoke at about 7 a.m. and saw a man standing above her, according to Agent Donny Moses, a police spokesman. The man apparently came in through an open window and made his way to her bedroom, Moses said.

The woman told police that the suspect covered her mouth and sexually assaulted her, then forced her to clean herself. Police do not believe the man was armed, but Moses said the victim was unable to provide a detailed description of the suspect.

Sunday's incident seems similar to three burglary-rapes and one incidence of sodomy reported between May 2008 and November 2009, said the Police Department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 2:18 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Breaking news, Confronting crime, Neighborhoods, West Baltimore
        

Witness intimidation case recalled in drug arrest

News that a woman convicted of playing a role in a horrific witness intimidation case in 2005 is now suspected in a drug and money conterfeiting case only revives years-old pain.

Shakia Watkins played a small role in trying to drive Harwood community activist Edna McAbier from her home by making fraudulent 911 calls to divert police from the area so her associates could firebomb the house. They were angry with McAbier for refusing to back down in repeatedly calling police on drug dealers.

Many people went to federal prison for long periods of time, but Watkins served four years from a federal judge and got released on three years supervised probation. Then on Friday she was one of 10 people busted by city police in connection with a drug investigation that led to the discovery of $15,000 in counterfeit money.

In 2006, Baltimore Sun reporter Matthew Dolan interviewed Edna McAbier and wrote about her plight. She had done everything right, testified against everybody, but saddes of all, even with all the people who had attacked her in prison, she could not reclaim the home she had fought so hard to protect. Friends of her attackers made that impossible.

Here is just a part of Dolan's story (full story here):

Continue reading "Witness intimidation case recalled in drug arrest" »

January 23, 2010

Rawlings-Blake, Bealefeld and citizens patrol Fed Hill bar scene

A group of about 30 police officers, elected officials and citizens crowded around the entrance to Arabian Nights, a hookah bar on Light Street in Federal Hill, at about 1 a.m. as Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III asked the owners what they were doing to help the community.

"Here's how I feel," Bealefeld said. "I want you to be successful, I want you to make a million dollars. We also feel you have to be a good neighbor, too."

Bealefeld was handing them a business card to set up a meeting, and one of the members of the crowd spoke up.

"If it's true what I heard [about your business], I don't want you to be successful," she said. "I want you to close."

As she walked away, one of the men asked the other: "Was that the new mayor??"

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined the group at 12:30 a.m. to walk through the Federal Hill bar scene, where police have been experimenting with new patrol strategies to counteract the hordes of drunken barhoppers who flood the streets at last call. They get in fights, they yell, they dent cars or urinate on houses. Girls in incredibly short skirts and guys fumbling around for cigarettes looked puzzledly on as our group walked through the area.

Arabian Nights has some unique problems, police and residents say. There was a stabbing there one night during a fight, and the owners locked police out another time as they responded to break up a fight.  

Continue reading "Rawlings-Blake, Bealefeld and citizens patrol Fed Hill bar scene" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 12:56 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: City Hall, Neighborhoods
        

January 20, 2010

Community association leader's citation will be dropped

Prosecutors plan to drop charges against a South Baltimore community leader who was arrested and later released and given a citation for impeding a police investigation.

Christopher Taylor, 33, president of the Union Square community association, was arrested Dec. 3 after police said he interfered with an investigation into an alleged sex crime involving a teenage girl, who ran down the street and asked Taylor to call 911.

Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, said prosecutors plan to drop the case Thursday morning because police incorrectly wrote a citation for “disturbing the peace” instead of “hindering a police investigation.”

“He was not disturbing the peace, according to the facts outlined,” Burns said. “This was a hindering case, and they cited the wrong criminal code as a reference point.”

Critics said the case was a clear incident of over-aggressive policing and misplaced priorities, though police were privately grumbling that prosecutors had again failed to back up the Police Department, which has not publicly wavered in its decision to cite Taylor.

Continue reading "Community association leader's citation will be dropped" »

January 16, 2010

Lawmaker condemns release of Guilford suspect

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke is condemning the release in 2008 of the suspect in this week's Guilford abduction and said the victim of the attack two years ago had no idea prosecutors had agreed to a lenient plea:

Dear Editors,

Northern District Police has arrested the Guilford abductor --- again!  This is the same man arrested in 2008 for robbing a woman at knifepoint in the same immediate neighborhood --- and sentenced to 10 years in jail. But not really. Without the victim’s and the public’s knowledge, the States Attorney and Public Defender recommended suspension of that sentence in exchange for a guilty plea, despite the assailant’s long and violent juvenile record and the victim’s identification of his photo. And the judge released him on the spot, apparently to avoid the inconvenience of sending him to trial on an already overcrowded docket.

We will not be excluded again.  The adjacent Guilford and Oakenshawe neighborhoods have joined together to improve communication and follow-up, and part of that communication is to track every stage of this perennial assailant’s processing through a system which has failed us once, to the violent victimization of four residents and an entire neighborhood within two years of the 10-year sentence that never was imposed.                

Most crimes are committed by the same people, over and over again. Hindsight notwithstanding, common sense dictates that the system owes our neighborhoods protection from such obviously violent recidivists in our midst. Guilford and Oakenshawe willl be watching this time to make sure that our court system protects our interests, not its own convenience, from arrest to sentencing. And works to make the evidence “stick.”   

Sincerely yours,

Mary Pat Clarke

Baltimore City Council

14th District 

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:25 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Courts and the justice system, Neighborhoods
        

January 14, 2010

Guilford residents meet to talk crime

A rash of startling crimes in the Guilford neighborhood prompted a community meeting last night, with more than 50 residents gathering in the middle of the street outside of a home where a man was robbed and abducted.

Police kicked off the meeting with good news - after broadcasting a picture of the suspect, extra officers who were deployed to the area stopped a suspicious person and have now linked him to the abduction and an earlier robbery. Charges are pending. 

That drew a huge sigh of relief from the crowd, but their relief quickly gave way to lingering concerns, including dissatisfaction with police response times, private security that the community pays for, and police disclosure of crimes.

Maggie Smith, who helped organize the meeting and offered up her living room until the crowd grew too large, was exasperated: "I'm terrified to leave my house. I feel as though I've been robbed of my freedom. When my neighbor said good morning to me today, I almost had a heart attack."

For Smith, the crimes hit home. She rents a room in her home to the man who was abducted and left locked in a trunk in "East bumfiddle Baltimore." She said word spread throughout the day that someone from the street had been a victim of such a crime, and when the man returned home, she asked if he'd heard of it.

"It was me," he said matter-of-factly, according to Smith. "I'm alive and I'm hungry." They gave him food, Tylenol and coffee.

"He was calm, cool and collected, but he was probably in a state of shock," Smith said. The man, who had been in the city for just four months and who Smith said "fiddles" at the Maryland Institute College of Art, was brought home by his parents to Bethesda. She doesn't expect he'll return.   

Residents urged each other to be more diligent, to not change their way of life but be more aware of their surroundings. "That's the way we're going to beat these bastards," said Bill Robertson, 62. "By working together and keeping an eye on each other."

As people relayed incidents that they had experienced, others spoke up, saying they were concerned that it was the first time they were hearing of the crimes. Most expressed disgust with the private security patrol residents there pay for. An alert about the robbery-abduction only mentioned the robbery, and one man accused of police of obscuring the more gritty details.

Another man turned his gripes on the court system. "Where's the state's attorney's office? When are we going to start holding Pat Jessamy's feet to the fire and hold her accountable?"

"The man has been arrested..." City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke began to say. 

"And he'll be back on the streets," the man retorted. 

Tom Hobbs, president of the Guilford Association, stressed to neighbors that the recent crimes were abnormal for the area. "Street crime, assaults of this type are virtually not heard of," he said. 

In Friday's Sun, Peter Hermann has a report of the crimes through the eyes of one fearful resident. 

Posted by Justin Fenton at 10:08 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

January 13, 2010

Cop walks

There are at least two dozen Baltimore Police Citizen On Patrol walks scheduled for this evening. City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake plans to be in Belair-Edison; Mayor Sheila Dixon will be in her neighborhood of Hunting Ridge.

Steve Herlth of Southwest Baltimore sent this detailed schedule. It's not comprehensive but it covers much of what's planned:

This is our neighborhood, take a walk!
Taking back the City, One Community, One Walk at a time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hi my Friends,

Well, tonight is the night of the Big City Wide Walk. If there is any doubt in your mind, please come out and be seen. We cannot expect the Baltimore City Police to solve all our community problems without us as individuals being involved. So, make the decision and join us.  Look at the following communities that are walking and pick one. We sure can use your help.  Oh, do not forget to dress warm, have comfortable walking shoes, and bring a flashlight, and most of all, have fun and meet new friends. 

Community Group Location Time
Better Waverly Marian House Courtyard (949 Gorsuch) 6:00pm-7:00pm
Carrollton Ridge  The Samuel F.B Morse Recreation Center Parking Lot. 424 S. Pulaski St. 6:30pm-7:30pm
Patterson Place Association  NE corner of Baltimore St. and Patterson Place Avenue 6:30pm-7:30pm
Greektown Community Development Center Byzantio Bar (corner of Newkirk and Eastern Ave) 6:30pm-7:30pm
Evesham Park Neighborhood Association Corner of 701 E. Lake Avenue @ Clearspring Ave 6:30pm-7:30pm
Highlandtown Community Association's Corner of Gough and Conkling (In front of the Laughing Pint) 6:30pm-7:30pm
Bolton Hill 1419 Jordan Street 6:30pm-7:30pm
Upper Fells Point 140 S. Ann St. in front of Ann's Grocery on the corner of Ann and Pratt. 7:00pm-8:00pm
North East Citizens Patrol Northeast Police District, 1900 Argonne Dr. 7:30pm-8:30pm
Westfield Association / WNIA Corner of Pinewood & Sefton 6:30pm-7:30pm
Waltherson Improvement Association (Driving Patrol) Northeast Police District 1900 Argonne Dr. 7:30pm-10:00pm
1st District Human Service Center 3306 Garrison Blvd. 6:30pm-7:30pm
Morrell Park St. Paul  Dunkin Donuts Washington Blvd at Wicks Ave. 6:30pm-7:30pm
Patterson Park Neighborhood Association Patterson Park entrance at Baltimore & Linwood 7:00pm-8:00pm
Violetville Community Association 1000 Haverhill 6:30pm-7:30pm
Concerned Citizens for a Better Brooklyn  226 Washburn Ave. (St. John Lutheran Church-Parking Lot) 6:30pm-7:30pm
Federal Hill South Neighborhood Association East Cross Street and Riverside Ave. (Federal Hill, at the old Porters Pub) 6:30pm-7:30pm
CTAC ALLIANCE/BIA Front of the Senator Theatre 6:30pm-7:30pm
Pigtown/Camden Crossing/Barre Circle  Washington Boulevard and Scott Street 6:30pm-7:30pm
Ridgely's Delight Association  Pickle's Pub (Washington Blvd.) 6:30pm-7:30pm
HollinsRoundhouse Neighborhood Association  Black Cherry Puppet Theater (1115-1117 Hollins St.) 6:20pm-7:30pm
Sandtown-Winchester  Western District Police Station (1134 N. Mount St.) 6:00pm-7:00pm
Curtis Bay  1630 Filbert St. (Curtis Bay Recreation Center Parking lot)  6:30pm-7:30pm
Hunting Ridge  4640 Edmondson Ave. Hunting Ridge Presbyterian Church (Parking lot)  6:30pm-7:30pm
Riverside Neighborhood Association 400 blk E. Randall St. (Riverside Park Gazebo) 7:00pm-8:00pm
Westgate Community Association  Westgate Community Park at North Bend Rd. 6:30pm-7:30pm
The Old Homeland Community Front of the Senator Theatre 6:30pm-7:30pm

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:34 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

January 6, 2010

Safe Streets comes to Salisbury

Gov. Martin O'Malley announced today that Salisbury is getting a Safe Streets program. The program was rolled out in Annapolis in 2008 as part of an effort to curb a crime spike there. After less than a year, the program looked like it was already paying off. And through the first 11 months of 2009, police there were reporting a 40 percent drop in "Part 1" crimes - including homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny - the lowest crime rate since the city started tracking number this way in 1975. Salisbury is the next stop to receive the influx of resources.

The new program coincided with the appointment of former Baltimore police commander Michael A. Pristoop to head the Annapolis city police. Using money from Safe Streets, Pristoop implemented a number of strategic changes, such as assigning senior commanders to street duty during periods of peak crime, increasing patrols around "hot spot" problem areas and creating a street enforcement unit consisting of canine, drug enforcement, intelligence, traffic and foot patrol teams. Safe Streets helped the police department with technological advances such as CCTV and crime-mapping, and helped the city foster a stronger relationship with the Division of Parole and Probation to target known offenders in the community.

Also, on Thursday, O'Malley plans to give a "State of Public Safety" speech in Cambridge, to address public safety improvements statewide under his tenure.

Here is the announcement:

Continue reading "Safe Streets comes to Salisbury" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Mapping crime, Neighborhoods
        

December 31, 2009

"Corner Sweep"

Building off of Peter's post about New Year's Eve preparations, one of our photographers was in Southwest Baltimore when he saw what he described as about 10 police cars and a police van - a paddywagon - driving around slowly through the neighborhood, with lights flashing but no sirens. He decided to follow them to see what was up, and ended up driving around the area in circles until losing them at a red light that they pulled through.

He wanted to know what he had just seen, so I called a Southwest District officer, who informed me that this was an intimidation tactic called a "corner sweep." 

"We're warining the drug dealers to stay off the corners," the officer said.

There will be tons of extra officers on the streets tonight, but it looks like they're trying to set the tone early that police will be out in big numbers.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 3:57 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

December 29, 2009

Barber's arrest causes controversy

The arrest of a 73-year-old West Baltimore community leader and barber for many of Baltimore's elite is raising questions on both sides of the debate. We first reported Monday afternoon that Lenny Clay's arm had been broken during an arrest, and tracked down charging documents and an accident report.  Clay's advocates and police critics claim excessive force, saying there's no justification for a 73-year-old man's arm being broken during an arrest. Others say that if the police account is true, Clay broke the law, leaving the scene of an accident, driving drunk and without a license, and resisting arrest - in otherwords, people who do those things can expect a negative result.

The situation is more of an issue of use of force, because Clay, who for decades has been a community leader and advocate for kids, outright denies virtually every claim in the police reports - from accusations that he was drunk to the notion that his car was involved in an accident. With the intention of showing readers the kind of things we consider when reporting a he-said, she-said story like this, here are some unanswered questions we've explored:

Continue reading "Barber's arrest causes controversy" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 4:48 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Neighborhoods, West Baltimore
        

December 23, 2009

Teen nights at Blacks in Wax museum nixed

Today we reported on the decision by officials at the Great Blacks in Wax museum to cut ties with a promoter who had pitched a series of teen parties as Christian fundraisers but which featured "'She's Got a Donk' sexy dancing" contests and fliers with men flashing gang signs and the middle finger. A 20-year-old was stabbed and killed there Friday after fights broke out in the overflow crowd. The museum's deputy director had previously stood by the event, saying that they were positive functions and that the organizers couldn't be responsible for what happened outside the museum. But after we sent him the fliers, he quickly formed a different opinion.

Not surprisingly, the Myspace page from where I pulled those fliers has been set to private as of today. Even though the URL remains myspace.com/biglesproductionsinc, they've changed the name to "Young Fly and Flashy Promotions" and have put a different person's name on the profile.

Credit to the CityPaper, which raised questions about this group in 2006. Even then, the Baltimore Christian Community Association had been technically defunct as a Maryland corporation for a decade, records show.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 2:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: East Baltimore, Neighborhoods
        

Holiday toy drive, or...?

Last night, there was a flurry of shootings on the city's east side. I drove to one shooting scene at N. Lakewood Ave. and Jefferson St., then turned the corner and went a few blocks to another on N. Linwood.

As I drove back home, traffic was stopped near Hopkins, and in the distance I could see police car after police car after police car - must've been 40 of them - making the turn towards the Hopkins emergency room with lights and sirens blaring. "Uh oh," I thought. With that kind of response, it had to be something awful. A police officer critically wounded? They were driving slow - probably the icy roads, I thought.

I wasn't the only one who saw this and got that sinking feeling. From Twitter:

@erintangerine: About 25 cop cars driving slowly, sirens blaring down Calvert near Chase in B-more. What's going on?!?!

And emails:

"I live Downtown at Pratt and Greene. Last night, my fiancee and I observed a line of maybe 30 to 40 police vehicles (City and State) with sirens blaring turning west onto Lombard from Greene. About 10 to 20 minutes later, we observed that very same police line heading east on Pratt. Most of the vehicles were marked cruisers but a few were unmarked SUVs and blue vans with shields on them. Do you have any idea what was going on? I see nothing on the Sun website."

As it turned out, what these most of folks were seeing was likely part of a multi-agency holiday toy drive sponsored by Channel 2. I can't say that for certain, since I'm not sure what the route for this motorcade was. And that may be the problem.

I was relieved when I pulled over, talked to some officers and learned that this was a positive, holiday event. But how many people who didnt tweet or send an email to me are thinking right now that their neighborhood was under siege last night?  They wouldn't be foolish in thinking that, since there were at least four shootings last night, including a 15 year old girl who was shot in the head. I remember as a kid hearing firetrucks blare through my neighborhood in Anne Arundel County, running outside, and seeing Santa on the firetruck, throwing candy canes on our front yards as the truck crawled at 10 miles an hour. It was fun because after our initial shock - every year, even though we should have known it was coming - we figured out that it was all in holiday fun. But there's quite a few who weren't able to figure out that this was an organized effort and not a response to the latest shooting. And before you call me a Scrooge, no, I'm not advocating for an end to this positive event. But my email inbox and Twitter indicates that perhaps they can find a way to better signal their purpose.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 10:33 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

December 22, 2009

Cat burglar in Essex

Here's the news release from Baltimore County Police:

Police Seek Cat Burglar In Precinct 11/Essex

Man Always Enters Homes Through Unlocked Doors
 
Baltimore County Police are searching for a cat burglar who has struck in the same neighborhood four times since September. He may be responsible for a total of eight such incidents in Precinct 11/Essex, starting in February 2008.Victims can describe the suspect only as a slim black male, 20-30 years old. Investigators do, however, have a sketch of the suspect based on information from one victim.

 In all of these cases, the homeowner left a sliding glass door unlocked, and the man simply walked into the home. In some of the cases he made his way to the bedroom of  women or teen-aged girls who woke to see him standing in their room.  On September 19, a woman awoke in the middle of the night to find the man touching her. At other times he has been confronted by residents and left the same way he came in – through the unlocked door - and could not be located by Police. He has taken no property, and there have been no violent confrontations. The addresses and dates where he struck are:

Continue reading "Cat burglar in Essex" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 3:43 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County, Neighborhoods
        

December 21, 2009

Teen Night at Great Blacks in Wax

When we called the Great Blacks in Wax Museum for comment about the stabbing during a party there, the director told me that the place had been rented out by the Baltimore Christian Warriors, which holds wholesome events and raises money for activities such as youth marching bands. He said there had never been any past violence. But I wanted to find out more about this group, and it led me on an interesting path.

Follow me on this one:

-If you Google "Baltimore Christian Warrior," one of the first results is actually a post from Midnight Sun in which our nightlife reporter Sam Sessa saw an ad for "free party bookings" and called the number to find out what that was about. The voicemail said it was the hotline for the "Baltimore Christian Warriors."

 Wax museum parties

-So I revisited that poster Sam first saw on Calvert St., and it took me to a Myspace page for Big Les Productions. The page advertises "Follow the Swag" parties for young adults and "mature high schoolers," featuring events such as "'She's got a Donk' sexy ladies dance contests." Most of the fliers are for parties at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum (such as the one at right), and many feature young men throwing up what appear to be gang signs and flipping the bird to the camera. It's apparently a weekly party, with a cover charge, and the fliers indicate that the party on the night of stabbing was part of this series - not, at least from the outside, a fundraiser for the Baltimore Christian Warriors.

(In a clever marketing move, one single party has about 20 different fliers advertising it as a birthday party for someone else. So it gets packed and all your friends think they're there for you)

I tried calling "Big Les" to see what the deal is; someone answered the phone and said he takes Les' calls for him and would pass the message along. In the meantime, I've reached out again to the museum's deputy director again to find out whether the wool was pulled over their eyes in regards to nature of these parties, or whether there's something else going on. 

Posted by Justin Fenton at 7:42 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

December 14, 2009

Community police ride-along

On Friday, I spent a few hours with a community representative and a police officer in North Baltimore. More than 200 residents joined city cops for a night on the streets to learn the city from law enforcement's perspective.

You can read the complete story here but I also have a video of the exciting evening out:

Continue reading "Community police ride-along" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 5:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

December 11, 2009

Family struggles to understand shooting; police account doesn't jibe with man they knew

Twenty-year-old Byron Matthews didn't fit the profile of a guy who points guns at police officers, according to his family. The father of twin girls graduated from Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy in 2008, worked on his off-days at a wine and spirits distribution company in Jessup, and had no brushes with the law as a juvenile or as an adult.

His family is seeking answers after he was shot and killed by police officers shortly after midnight Wednesday during a drug investigation. Police say he pointed a .38-caliber revolver at plainclothes detectives and was found in possession of heroin, an image that family, friends and co-workers are having trouble reconciling with his reputation.

"Byron was never in trouble. He is not the monster he's being portrayed to be," said an aunt, Janet Robertson, 47. "If they say they've got a tape that shows him and he had a gun, then I'm going to have to respect what they did. But until then, we want justice."
Posted by Justin Fenton at 8:50 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Neighborhoods, Police shootings, West Baltimore
        

December 9, 2009

Did fire truck shut down cost a life?

Wednesday's tragic fire in Rosemont killed Sam Davis, the 76-yar-old father of one our top editors at the Baltimore Sun. It also has raised serious questions about the Fire Department's longstanding practice of closing fire companies to save money.

Engine 20 responded to the 3 a.m. fire on Presstman Street but Truck 18 sat in that same station, shut down as part of rotating closures. Another truck company came from two miles away, a delay that has critics charging that buget cuts contributed to a death. Fire officials also say that the initial 911 call came in on a cell phone and was garbled, and fire crews were first sent to Presbury Street four blocks away.

Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Scharper and Liz Kay provide more details in today's paper and on-line story. Earlier this week, Mayor Sheila Dixon nixed plans by Fire Chief James S. Clack to permantenly close three stations, which would cut back on rotating closures. But the mayor did agree on one closure (Truck 16, which ironically was sent to the fatal fire in place of Truck 18)prompting a fire lieutenant to openly speak out on a Bolton Hill blog:

I appreciate your allowing me to voice my concerns on your forum. I am a Lieutenent at Truck 16, which is the fire truck located at 406 McMechen Street. We have just been informed that we will be closed permanently on January 1st. this puts all of you in extreme jeapordy. The engine will remain, however, the engine does not carrie ladders to assist you from windows in the event of a fire. We have served this community for years with much pride and feel this is very much a disservice to you hard working tax paying individuals. The department is permanenttly closing 3 companies on January 1st. If you are as upset about this as we, your local servants are, perhaps you could contact your local councilperson and voice your concerns. Thanks

Lieutenant Robert G. Folderauer
Truck Company # 16

The lieutenant noted a meeting has been scheduled with the fire chief, his command staff and City Council members at the McMechen Street firehouse for tonight at 7 p.m.

It's a volatile issue that is sure cause an uproar and debate. The president of the Rosemont Community Association, Robert Hunt, told The Sun's Liz Kay: "This is a good example of money versus lives. What is more important to you? " It's a crap shoot and it was the wrong decision as far as I'm concerned."

Posted by Peter Hermann at 3:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

Response time questioned in fatal fire

Many years ago, when the Baltimore Fire Department first began a rotating closure of fire companies to save money (the practice long predates this administration), a union official told me it was like playing Russian Roulette with people's lives.

This morning, one man died and a woman was injured in a rowhouse fire in the 3100 block of Presstman St. in West Baltimore (pictures at left by The Sun's Jed Kirschbaum). The truck company, Truck 18, located just six block away on North Avenue, had shut for the day. Engine 20 out of the same station, along with a medic, responded.

Trucks have the ladders and equipment needed for firefighters to make entry, perform rescues and break down doors and windows. Engines have water or are used to hook up to fire hydrants. Both are needed to properly respond to a fire.

A department spokesman is saying they are investigating response times to see whether a truck dispatched from another fire station made it in a reasonable amount of time and whether it would've made any difference. That will be the big question today; with Truck 18 down (station seen below), from where and from what distance did the other truck have to come and was that good enough?

Capt. Stephan G. Fugate, president of the Baltimore Fire Officer's union and a long critic of the rotating closures, told the Baltimore Sun's Liz Kay that the next nearest Truck company was two miles from Presstman Street when it was dispatched. "Those extra 90 seconds in the early stages of a fire .... that's is the difference between life and death." Noting a truck company's role in leading rescue efforts, he said: "You're placing civilians and our own members in jeopardy."

This morning's fire comes just two days after Fire Chief James S. Clack proposed shuttering three fire stations permanently. He said that would mean rotating closures would be limited to three each day; they now close fire companies every day. Mayor Sheila Dixon scaled back that plan, however, agreeing to close only one station. That means four companies will be closed each night.

Clack, speaking on WBAL-Radio this morning, did not directly answer whether Truck 18 would've made any difference in fighting the fire on Presstman Street. Here is what he had to say:

“Unfortunately what happened last night, the station has an engine and a truck. Just before we got the call to the fire, there was a  false alarm further to the west received. Engine 20 that was in the station with truck 18 and the engine was sent to the false alarm. They had to turn around and come back to their district. Tthat delayed getting the first engine to the fire."

"That's going to happen. We’re going to have fires near stations … It’s inevitable that  we’re going to have fires close to a station or a company that was rotated closed."

"I think we're to the point where we can't do much more of this."

The city has 36 engines and 18 truck companies and he said if five are closed each day, "That’s 10 percent of our surpression force. That’s a lot. I don't think it's prudent for us to keep increasing the rotating closures ... We need to have a serious discussion about where we go from here."

A few weeks, ago a bar owned by firefighters burned in Locust Point and one of the fire companies based on East Fort Avenue was shut. An engine had to come from Brooklyn, delaying the response time to a fire that involved the firefighters' own.

Firefighters have responded with vitriolic comments on the closures over the years. Some samples from the Maryland listing (made before this morning's fire) in The Watchdesk, a public comment forum for firefighters across the nation:

Continue reading "Response time questioned in fatal fire" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

November 3, 2009

Crime walk with a British twist

Our visiting British crime reporter Mark Hughes ended his first full day in Baltimore by walking with the South Baltimore's Riverside community group. They spent about an hour walking through the neighborhood with police, who even made a couple of busts.

He chatted with residents about crime (they're most concerned with car break-ins, loitering and grime) and learned that these walks are an opportunity for people to point out everything from dangling power lines to trash that needs to be picked up to blighted houses. At left, Mark is talking with the Southern District commander, Maj. Scott Bloodsworth, in an alley near Heath and Light streets.

One of the sergeants on the walk ended up arresting a man and a woman on a disorderly charge (the woman was high and both refused to leave), at least temporarily abating a problem for the night.  Mark is here in part because The Wire is so successful in Great Britain (The Sun's Justin Fenton is headed there on Wednesday), but walking through Riverside was a chance for him to see a neighborhood with other, more pedestrian problems.

Mark has a blog up to recount his experiences, and he and The Sun's crime reporter Justin Fenton are on the Ed Norris show, (105.7-FM) this morning at 8:10 a.m. At left, Bloodsworth chats with a woman one of his officers had just arrested on a disorderly charge at Light and Heath streets.

Just before the walk, the spokesman for the mayor's office, suggesting a better column than one was planning to write, sent me a suggestion of his own (NFS stands for non-fatal shooting):

"The Mayor was sworn in on January 17, 2007.  She has been Mayor for 1,022 days. In that 1,022 days, there have been 2,276 combined homicides and NFS. In the 1,022 days before she took office (April 1, 2004 to January 16, 2007) there were 2,558 combined homicides and NFS.  This represents 282 less combined homicides and shootings – a decrease of 11%"

If those numbers are accurate, in the 1,000 days before Sheila Dixon became mayor, the city averaged 2.50 shootings and homicides a day. Under her tenure, the average has dropped to 2.23 a day. There's a disconnect between fear of crime and stats that city leaders just don't seem to get.

Does a crime drop of a few tenths of a percentage point make you feel any safer? Do you even know what that means?

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:53 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Crime elsewhere, Neighborhoods
        

October 26, 2009

Fire demo planned

Baltimore fire officials are planning a live burn demonstration on Tuesday in downtown Baltimore to demonstrate how well sprinklers work. I hope it works better than a similar demonstration in Washington this month when the fire got out of control and burned at least two firefighters.

It was particularly embarassing because in DC, the fire chief was there and tried to put out the spreading flames only to find out that there was no backup hose. In fact, the Washington Post reported that the fire officials there violated a series of safety regulations.

Sound familiar?

Remember two years ago when we reported that a fire academy student died in a live burn that Baltimore fire officials had set up in a vacant rowhouse. They too violated dozens of safety violations that included not having a backup hose.

Hopefully this burn goes better. For more details about the event:

Continue reading "Fire demo planned " »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

Little Italy crime fight (continuted)

Giovanna Blatterman's daughter, Gia, took issue with my column last week on the Little Italy crime meeting. I'll run her entire e-mail below, but like others, she didn't like the tone of the story focusing on neighborhood drama, saying that it obscured a real and frightening issue over crime.

Gia says there are two factual errors. She says I used "Gia" -- insinutating the daugher -- instead of the mother. I looked back at blog postings and the printed article and I reference the mother as "Giovanna" and on subsequent times "Blatterman." Other posters to the blog used "Gia" for Giovanna." Also, Gia Blatterman is the sole name on the restaurant's liquor license. I had both mother and daughter running the establishment. In previous restaurant reviews, all of them positive, mother and daughter are listed as co-owners.

Here is Gia Blatterman's letter:

Continue reading "Little Italy crime fight (continuted)" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:02 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

October 20, 2009

Top cop wants to padlock Suite Ultralounge

After more than a year of debate, a failed effort by the liquor board and contant complaints by residents of Mid-Town Belvedere and Mount Vernon, Baltimore's police commissioner has issued a padlock order to Suite Ultralounge.

This bottle club has been a constant irritant for residents and defended by its owner and lawyer as a victim of misplaced community outrage. They say violence outside the club but attributed to patrons unfairly demonizes the nightspot that attracts teens.

The debate over crime outside Ultralounge grew into a citywide debate over crime downtown at aother nightclubs and led to talk about whether the city was safe at night. Police have been using the padlock law to hold bar and liquor store owners more accountable and have forced several to close or revise their security plans.

A double shooting and stabbing that police say began as disputes inside the club on East Chase Street, in the basement of the historic Belvedere hotel, are just the most public. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi gave some more examples:

-- 17-year-old patron held up at gunpoint at 12:58 a.m. on Jan. 18 outside the club, beaten and robbed of money and a cell phone.

-- A 15-year-old patron who robbed two 15-year-old male patrons at gunpoint as they left the club on Feb. 1

-- A male patron who was stabbed near the club and suffered life-threatening injuries on Oct. 11, which prompted a retaliatory shooting that left a female with a through and through gunshot wound to the thigh that same night. Police said the dispute started inside the club.

“The reality is there is no question you can tie a number of violent offenses to this club,” said City Councilman William H. Cole IV. “Whether or not the liquor board does what it needs to do, the city has its own tools it can use in the most egregious cases. The entire community has been begging for this for well over a year now.”

The attorney for the club, Peter A. Prevas, didn't return a call I made to his office this afternoon.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 5:15 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

August 25, 2009

Suite Ultralounge can stay open -- for now

So after waiting months for Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Kaye Allison to rule on whether Suite Ultraloung, a controversial bottle club in the basement of the Belvedere Hotel, can stay open, we finally get what amounts to a non-ruling.

The judge, in essence, decided that Baltimore's liquor board needs to formulate standard rules to shut the club before it shuts the club. The board had thought existing rules for closing troublesome night spots were good enough, but until late last year, the bottle club had been running under antiquated rules that allowed it to escape the scrutiny of the board. The city changed that because of complaints, and the judge said those changes require new standards before the lock can go on.

This means the club can stay open until the liquor board completes its new regulations for revoking licenses and then have another hearing on Suite Ultralounge. The easiest way for that to happen is November, when the club has its license up for renewal. That's a full year from when the board revoked its license, citing the club as a danger to the community.

Mayor Sheila Dixon had this to say in a statement:

“Today’s ruling was very disappointing news with respect to the Suites Ultralounge, which has not been a good neighbor. Unfortunately, this decision does not bring closure to the residents of Mt. Vernon, an area where we have seen too many violent incidents linked to this nightclub.

The Liquor Board should act quickly to address the concerns raised in the judge's opinion. We are hopeful that bureaucracy and red tape will not prevent the board from finally shutting down this nuisance club.”

There's a good chance this whole episode could be prolonged even further. If the liquor board, as expected, yanks the club's license again in November, its owners will most certainly appeal to Circuit Court again. A judge could again take months to rule, find the board's new regulations inadequate and send it back yet again or decide it can or cannot be shuttered. Either way, more appeals are likely.

The only reprieve residents have is that because Allison took so long to rule in this case, liquor board chairman Stepan Fogleman has told me he would no longer grant shuttered bars a stay pending their appeal to court, as they did with Club Ultralounge. Fogleman said he had expected a ruling within 30 days, not three months. That would mean club owners would have to make an extra trip to court to seek a stay from a judge if they want to remain open pending appeal.

For now, Club Ultralounge, linked to several violence acts including shootings and maurading youths in Mount Vernon and Mid-Town Belvedere, will get to stay open. It's attorney, Peter A. Prevas, told The Sun's Julie Bykowicz and Sam Sessa (see his nightlife blog, Midnight Sun, for yet another story about violence in the area), "It's certainly a victory. We won the battle but not necessarily the war."

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:50 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

August 20, 2009

Girl gives money to cops to save horses

Sophia Litrenta, the 9-year-old girl who ran a lemonade stand to raise money to save the Baltimore Police Department's Mounted Unit, handed the city's police commissioner a check for $2,319 this morning at the horse stables.

Sophia's at left, petting a horse with Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, at her lemonade stand on Tuesday. The photo was taken by The Sun's Lloyd Fox.

The little girl from Lutherville served the lemonade and cookies earlier this week after seeing reports that the horse unit might be disbanded if the city can't come up with about $200,000 in private funds. Budget cuts forced the city to take away funds and the department is seeking donations through a private foundation.

Anthony Guglielmi, the city's police spokesman, said the foundation has raised nearly $60,000 so far.

Here's how to donate money to the horse unit: Contact Laurie Crosley at the Baltimore Community Foundation for the Police Foundation. Donations can be mailed to her at: Baltimore Community Foundation; 2 E Read St # 9; Baltimore, MD 21202-6903. Checks should be made out to: Baltimore Community Foundation, Police Foundation Fund. The cover letter or check should specify that the funds are to used to support the Mounted Unit. The phone number there is: (410) 332-4171.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

August 17, 2009

Shooting at Inner Harbor

Another weekend and more crime at the Inner Harbor.

I thought we had a respite after the early summer stabbings, attacks and large crowds of youths terrorizing the visitors (at left, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III patrols the downtown area after a spate of crime in June). But Saturday night, after members of a Bloods gang passed members of a Crips gang in the Light Street pavilion, at least one person took out a gun and opened fire. Another shot was fired near an outside ice cream stand.

One reader wrote to me that he was at the Harbor Friday and Saturday nights but didn't seen any police. That's a bit much, even though the heavy contingent assigned to the downtown area earlier this summer has dispersed. The city couldn't keep that going with all the other violence in the city, but now that its no longer at full strength we see what happens.

On Sunday, both the mayor and the police commissioner said they wanted cops to take a tougher stance, even rousting suspected gang members who come downtown. "Some people might not like it," Sheila Dixon told The Sun's Annie Linskey. "Some radicals are going to speak out about it. Our officers are going to have to become more aggressive."

No mayor wants to lose the Inner Harbor to crime on his or her watch.

Here is the mayor's statement from Sunday night (though it pales in comparison to what Dixon told The Sun in the interview:

“I am outraged by the shootings that occurred yesterday evening in the Pratt Street Pavilion.  The Inner Harbor is for everyone.  It is the premier destination for Baltimore’s families and millions of visitors. We will do everything in our power to make sure it stays that way.   
 
We will not tolerate the Inner Harbor being a “hangout” for those who break the law, intimidate, or create a nuisance of any kind.   We have a lot of police deployed in the Inner Harbor. The Commissioner and I will continue to work dilligently and swiftly to improve security.

This incident is yet another reminder of the need for zero tolerance for illegal guns. We must all agree and ensure that if you carry a loaded, illegal gun in Baltimore -- you go to jail.”

Here is what a resident wrote me on Sunday:

Continue reading "Shooting at Inner Harbor" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:16 AM | | Comments (58)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

August 12, 2009

Community leader shot

The woman hit by a stray bullet inside her Cherry Hill home Tuesday night is a community activist and has headed the Cherry Hill Tenant Council for the past five years. She's well known in her community, and when I stopped by this morning, two police cars were parked out front and neighbors slowed as they drove by and waved and made sure she's ok.

"I'm blessed," Shirley Foulks (in photo next to the bullet hole) shouted back, pausing between conversations on the phone, with the officers and with me. A crime lab tech came to the house to photograph a bullet casing found on her walkway.

Shirley had spent most of Tuesday visiting businesses to make sure they will donate back-to-school items for a fair on Saturday at the community center on Spellman Road. It is the kind of work that Shirely does tirelessly for her community.

Jack Baker, the head of the Southern District Police Community Relations Council, sent me this e-mail:

The wonderful lady who was hit is Ms. Shirley Foulks, President of the Cherry Hill Homes Tenant Council. Shirley has worked tirelessly for many years for all of the tenants of Cherry Hill Homes but especially the children. I have worked with Shirley for over five years on safety issues along with my teammates, the Southern District Police officers. I have been blessed to know Shirley, but working with her is an even greater blessing. The woman gives not just her time, but anything she owns, especially her love, to anyone who needs it. Let's all pray for her speedy recovery.

I'll have more on this shooting in Thursday's Crime Scene article.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 12:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Breaking news, Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

August 11, 2009

Girl, 9, tries to save police horses

Most of the letters I find in my mail slot start with a prison ID number. So it was refreshing to open one today from Sophia Litrenta, a 9-year-old girl who is donating proceeds from her lemonade stand to the Baltimore Police Department's Mounted Unit.

As we've reported, the city cut the budget for the six police horses and it needs at least $150,000 in private donations to make it another year. Police are trying to find a corporate sponsor to pick up the tab, but regular citizens, and now even children, are doing what they can.

The event is Tuesday, Aug. 18, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at 8609 Countrybrooke Way, Lutherville, 21093.

Sophia's letter is priceless:

Lemon Dad Est And
Posted by Peter Hermann at 4:40 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

August 10, 2009

Community walk -- a challenge

An important community cop walk is coming up Wednesday in Carrollton Ridge. Lest we forget, this is the neighbhorhood where the 5-year-old was shot and critically wounded, and where hundreds came for a walk to join the mayor and just about every other public official (Gene Sweeney Jr. captures the walk, with Mayor Sheila Dixon chatting with community activist Steve Herlth).

That was the easy one.

Now comes the test. Do the people the mayor and the police commissioner and the longtime community president, Connie Fowler, implored to help out actually show up? Or will this be another example of how we react to crime only to forget and move on a few weeks later.

Community activist Steve Herlth put out this e-mail as a challenge:

Carrollton Ridge, Wednesday, Wednesday, August 12 at 6:30 PM.  Meet up will be at the Recreation Parking lot, S. Pulaski and Ashton Streets.

Now, this Carrollton Ride walk will be an interesting walk, for some of us who participated in the Mega walk last month.  We all know how hard the Carrollton Ride Connie Fowler, The Mayor, the City employee's, the various community Walkers, and our fantastic Southwestern and Southern Officers were in participating in that walk to get the community residents out. Now is their chance to come out and join us in making their community safe and clean. 

All who participated in the last walk threw out the challenge to the community residents.  Many of the residents promised to be there on this Wednesday.  This is where I say, "We must have faith in the community" so let us back that faith up with a little pray that they keep their word.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:16 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

August 5, 2009

Police rock to National Night Out

All across the Baltimore last night, community groups held events to mark National Night Out. At Easterwood Park and Stadium Place, residents chatted and ate food. Near the Gilmore Homes housing project, rap and R&B acts performed on a big stage as part of an event promoted on radio station 92Q and sponsored by the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice.

But in Highlandtown, one Baltimore Police Commander took National Night Out to new heights, as The Sun's police reporter, Justin Fenton, reports:

More than 100 residents rocked out to a band made up of city police officers, including Southeastern District Maj. Roger Bergeron and his brother, Mark, who is a sergeant in the southern district.

The band, named “Damn Shame,” was making its first public appearance and the event was outside, on the property of the Abbott Memorial Presbyterian Church on Bank Street, so the concert attracted a fair amount of curious cops. They were treated to a full light show, a fog machine and plenty of rock poses. 

“There’s a lot of thugs in the neighborhood, who think these streets are theirs. Well I don’t know about y’all, but we’re not going to take it anymore,” Roger Bergeron yelled before the band launched into Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

The set list for the first half of the show also included Black Crowes’ “Hard to Handle,” ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man,” Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps”

Dep. Maj. William Davis was among the spectators. His review? “Not bad.”

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:05 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

August 4, 2009

Prayer vigils and crime

At her news conference last week after a dozen people had been shot at a party (18 overall on the city's Eastside), Mayor Shelia Dixon clearly had enough. She didn't want to talk about programs, and certainly not stop snitching, and she even got into it on prayer vigils (topic seems appropriate on the eve of National Night Out:

"People hae to be outrage, you know. Standing on a corner and having a candlelight vigil, that's fine and good. But what happens to those families in the midst of what happened? What are they going to do for those children so they don't get exposed? It comes down to personal responsibility. My concern, what are we going to do, how are we going to beef up that effort? What are we going to do if they (gunmen) decide to come over to the west side? I don't want innocent bystanders to be involved. If they want to take it out between themselves, fine and good, but that shouldn't impact our communities."

I mention this because on Monday, Marvin 'Doc' Cheatham, the head of Baltimore's NAACP branch, sent out a plea for a vigil and for men to meet children when they come home from their first day of school this fall. That brought an interesting response from City Councilam James B. Kraft (which follows Mr. Cheatham's request:

Dear Mayor Dixon, President Rawlings Blake & City Council Members:

Yes, we are in a crisis situation as it relates to crime in our community.  We are asking for and seeking out support and leadership from each and every member of the Baltimore City Council.

As you may know we have asked for the faith based community to significantly increase their community involvement.  It has come to our attention that the faith based community has met and has also scheduled a significant meeting.

We are now asking our Baltimore City Council members, along with the Mayor and Faith Based Community to hold a city-wide, simultaneous in each council district.

James, Nicholas, Robert, Bill, ‘Rikki’, Sharon, Belinda, Helen, Agnes, Edward, William, ‘Jack’, Warren and Mary Pat.

The date of August 28th has been selected as it is the Anniversary Date of the 1963 March on Washington.  If each of our council people were to bring together leaders in each of our city council districts we could have a significant impact on Baltimore City.  Churches, Mosques and Synagogues can be asked to adopt at least one elementary school, middle school and high school.  Community groups can be encouraged to significantly increase their activities and parents can be strongly encouraged to support their local school/parent group.  Businesses can be encouraged to financially help as much as they can.

On Monday, August 31, 2009 we are encouraging men of Baltimore to welcome the children back to school, but as a strong precaution we have advised them not to endanger the children by going in.  Just welcome them back.  We will be encouraging school supply drives in the next few days.

The Paul Robeson Institute, headed up by Executive Director Michael Johnson, will be coordinating the training that men will get to proactive deal with crime in our neighborhoods.  ‘The Men In Black’ will be recruiting David Muhammad and Imam Earl El Amin for they are experts in getting men in the communities.

We need every city agency involved in some what to help us make August 28th come to fruition.  Our community is crying-out for leadership as it relates to crime in our neighborhood and we are reaching out to those elected and paid to do such.  Let’s make  August 28th the real beginning of Stopping the Killing and Ending the Violence.

Larry Young, Michael Johnson and I would appreciate from each of you immediately.  We will share with the media what responses we get on Thursday, August 6, 2009.

Here is Mr. Kraft's response:

Continue reading "Prayer vigils and crime" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:38 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

July 29, 2009

Safe Streets worker among those shot

Operation Safe Streets is one of those programs copied from somewhere else that has merit but also raises questions. Mediators, many once from the street, thus giving them credibility, mediate disputes between rival drug dealers and gangs to stop them from shooting at each other.

But what happens, as did Sunday night, when one of the mediators gets shot while attending a backyard cookout targeted by a gunman who shot 12 people and once again thrust the city into a new debate over violence.

Was the victim at the party to work sources or did he know something was about to go down? And if he did know violence might break out, should he have notified his superiors and thus law enforcement? The whole  idea behind the program is to stop violence without involving the cops, which are mistrusted by suspects, victims, witnesses and just about everybody else.

That creates an uneasy relationship in that the Safe Streets advisors know a lot about what's going on but are essentially off-limits to cops and detectives trying to gather intelligence. They can't do  their jobs if they run to the cops but the cops can't do theirs if they don't have information.

So you sacrifice arrests for quiet.

It's all fine until the quiet goes away.

And then you have the city's police commissioner questioning why his cops didn't know about the cookout, held on the anniversary of the shooting deaths of two gang members. These are dates someone in the police community should be aware of. Someone at Safe Streets knew but that wasn't enough this time.

Safe Streets has been successful -- they went more than a year without a homicide in the neighborhood next to where the cookout shooting occurred, though there were several shootings within a block of the boundaries. That didn't hold into this year and now the whole place as exploded.

Can Safe Streets and the cops hold it together?

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:26 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

July 22, 2009

Cops right to arrest kids: readers

Commentators to the Crime Beat blog and to the Baltimore Sun's Talk Forum overwhelmingly support city cops for locking up three kids, agest 7, 8 and 11, for stealing a wagon, a scooter and bicycle parts.

The children's parents thought the treatment too harsh, but most readers and television viewers thought the punishment was either just right or not harsh enough. Baltimore Police defended handcuffing the youths and sending them to detention (no criminal charges were filed) though the mayor said that because the offedners' parents were home, she might have written the reports in the house and let the children stay there.

Seems to me we need to go back to basics. You hear time and again from older community residents, both here and across the country, that in their day when children misbehaved, they could count on being disciplined by their neighbors, then dragged home to be disciplined again by their parents. Word of your childhood transgressions typically reached home before you did.

Before a recent community walk in Southwest Baltimore's Carrollton Ridge neighborhood, in response to a 5-year-old girl caught in the crossfire and critically wounded, association leader Connie Fowler, who has lived there 46 years, lamented at the loss of old-fashion values. "If my son was caught doing something, the person corrected him and came to us to say something. You can't do that here today. If you correct a child, the parents are ready to beat you up. So I don't say anything to the parents. Most of the kids around here are raising themselves."

I know, today is different than yesterday. We can no longer trust each other enough to let children have the run of the neighborhood, confident that the entire neigbhorhood helps raise the neighborhood children. Now we have to screen friends and the parents of friends, worried that a child molester or a drug dealer might lurk around the corner. Perhaps in Connie Fowler's day, these kids who stole the bikes would've been dealt with by the residents and there would've been no need to get police involved.

Here is an e-mail I got this morning from a resident of Medfield, where the young offenders live:

I live in Medfield and have see the two boys that were arrested roaming the neighborhood on a daily basis.  They, along with a large number of other neighborhood kids, are always unsupervised and are left to entertain themselves. They jump neighbors fences, bully other kids, tease neighbors dogs, place empty trash cans in the middle of the street, litter, skateboard in the middle of the street and challenge cars to try to pass them. Until yesterday’s piece of news, calling the police was useless. City police response time to a 911 call, let alone a call to 311, is outrageously long. By the time the police arrive the kids are long gone and if the kids find out you called the police, the harassment begins. Please don’t misunderstand, the parents are to blame in this situation.  These kids need some focus and discipline in their lives. They need adults that care about what they are doing, where they are going, who they are hanging with.  They need their parents attention otherwise they will end up like many of the teens in the neighborhood – another young victim of the drug/alcohol scene.

Here is a sampling of comments:

Continue reading "Cops right to arrest kids: readers" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:34 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

July 21, 2009

Children arrested

Three boys, ages 7, 8 and 11, were arrested after a neighbor spied them stealing bicycle parts from Northeast Baltimore's Medfield community, according to a report on WBAL-TV last night. Their parents complained cops put them in handcuffs, into a wagon and to jail.

They weren't charged but were put into a program; they were held about two hours, the television station said.

Baltimore police defended the arrests. I know that handcuffs are usually required when an arrest is made both for the safety of the officers and the suspect. I'm all for teaching these kids a lesson, but is it necessary to put someone this young in handcuffs?

Back in 2007, Mayor Sheila Dixon apologized for police officers who arrested and handcuffed a 7-year-old boy who had been seen riding a motorized dirt bike. She said then that officers had "better options" than to handcuffing and detaining such a small child. The mayor called it "a bad choice."

But police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told WBAL: "We are just going to hold people accountable for their actions -- whether it's a 7-year-old who's taken property or not. If it was your property, you would want some justice for that."

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:27 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

July 15, 2009

Good deed at community walk

Steve Herlth in Southwest Baltimore, whom I met on a police community ride-along, is one of the expert organizers of community crime walks, called Citizens On Patrol. Earlier this month, about 100 people swarmed over Carrollton Ridge after a child was hit and critically wounded by a stray bullet. The mayor and practically everyone in City Hall, as well as residents from across the city, turned out.

But the real test is what comes after the walks and then who shows up when there's no tragedy to mobilize and outrage a community. I was heartened to get this e-mail from Steve last night, and a picture, though grainy, of a good deed by residents who combined the walks with a trash detail, and the helpful hand of a city police officer:

Hi Friends, 

It has been a while since I wrote one of these Walk Status Reports, as you know, we have fun and communication between the communities is getting better all the time. However, tonight was a little better than usual.

Hunting Ridge came out with a plan tonight. Their walkers were armed with trash bags, what in the world are they going to do. Well, as soon as we got started, it became obvious. They started picking up trash as they walked. Well, that was cool all by itself, but the walk leader who I will name Dana, has a young child in the stroller.  She cannot pick up trash and push the stroller. Who came to the rescue?  The picture is worth a thousand words.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:31 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Confronting crime, Heroes, Neighborhoods
        

July 13, 2009

Gangs in Pen Lucy -- how it all began

With talk of a revival of the Old York and Cator Avenue Boys and the McCabe Avenue Boys in the North Baltimore area, I got this e-mail this morning from a many who says he was there when it all started. At left, in a photo from the Baltimore Sun's Chiaki Kawajiri, is a scene from Pen Lucy in 2000.

And of course it started with a fight over a girl.

The gangs fought it out on city streets for years, culminating in the 1990s with a spate of shootings. Now, police and neighborhood leaders say the groups are all but gone, and talks of them returning are nothing more than young wannabees using the names of the storied groups.

Here is a bit of history from one reader:

Continue reading "Gangs in Pen Lucy -- how it all began" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:46 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Gangs, Neighborhoods
        

July 10, 2009

Pen Lucy gangs

North Baltimore's Pen Lucy neighborhood has always intrigued me. It's one of those places off the beaten-path (York Road), next to the upscale Guilford community (separated by a wall) and away from the traditional drug neighborhoods in on the east and west sides. Yet is has always been one of the most volatile spots on the city map.

Stories going back to the early 1990s documet fights and shootings associated with two neighborhood groups, which evolved into gangs, called the Old York and Cator Avenue Boys and the McCabe Avenue Boys (a memorial to the neighborhood's dead is at left).

One of the early leaders, involved in a shooting in 1992 that left two people dead, became, according to police, the leader of a notorious prison gang that was recently brought up on federal charges (the very one that smuggled crab meat into their cells and recruited corrections officers to the payroll). Another recent stabbing near McCabe Avenue turf has raised questions of whether the old gangs are returning.

One of the long-time activists, Robert Nowlin, has always been outspoken. He's a blind man who recently lost his son to a car accident in Georgia last year shortly after he had returned from two tours in Iraq as part of the Army. Nowlin told me this week that the neighborhood is better now but he's frustrated by what he sees as police shackled by the mayor and unable to clamp down the way they should.

Still, I saw a different Pen Lucy then I remember, back in the mid-1990s when a South Korean merchant was killed in his store (though for some reason his name is not on the memorial), back when a young man who just got out of jail for a shooting was himself shot by friends of the man he had wounded. "It's the same people over and over again," the major of the Northern District told me in 2000. Now some of those same names are popping up in bigger and bolder crimes (the federal drug indictment, not to mention a man convicted last year of killing a police officer was a member of the old Pen Lucy gangs).

A makeshift memorial honoring the neighborhood's dead is gone, replaced by a more tasteful monument in a park that lists the names of the shooting victims. The neighborhood still looks shabby and dangerous, even if the violence is down. But it's a start.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:27 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gangs, Neighborhoods
        

July 9, 2009

Community walks for Raven Wyatt

It was a show of force and another wake up call.

A routine community cop walk (pictures here by the Baltimore Sun's Gene Sweeney Jr.), scheduled a year ago, attracted more than a 100 participants from several city neighborhoods Wednesday night. The place: Carrollton Ridge in Southwest Baltimore. The reason: the shooting last week of Raven Wyatt, a 5-year-old girl caught in the crossfire of a dispute and the latest symbol of Baltimore's violence.

Here's what a tragedy brings: the mayor, the police commissioner, the fire chief, the heads of public works, recreation and health. The NAACP and the Guardian Angels showed. When the chief trash enforcer spotted three abandoned trash bags, he immediately called it in and got someone to take them away. When a 5-year-old boy expressed interest in a summer rec program, the director was there to sign him up. When a woman complained about police response, the commissioner was there to listen.

The head of the Carrollton Ridge association, Connie Fowler, repeated to everyone who would listen that this was a scheduled walk, planned before the little girl was shot and remains clinging to life at Johns Hopkins, and that while she was grateful for the outpouring, she would like to see this showing on every excursion. A walk without a tragedy as a backdrop draws perhaps seven people from her community and a smattering of others from beyond.

I thinks it's great that so many people showed for the walk and managed to shut down streets as they paraded through, talking to residents and kids who spilled from cramped rowhouses to snap pictures of the mayor. City officials signed up dozens of people to go to rec centers or help at the community association meetings, but it remains to be seen whether the people follow through.

The community walks are great and the mayor and her department heads can't be at each one, and I don't begrudge them for coming out after a little girl is shot. And to be fair, the mayor and police commissioner go on a lot of walks that don't draw media attention. The groundwork invested, now it's time for residents to stand up and take their community back.

Just 20 minutes before Mayor Sheila Dixon pulled up to the rec center at Pulaski and Ashton streets, city cops boxed in a car just up the street and searched it and its occupants for drugs. The idea is to get people involved, and as Jack Baker, a community leader from South Baltimore told the crowd, "We want this community to heal."

At a table, children from the rec center displayed get-well cards to Raven. "Get well soon," one said. "Feel better Raven," said another. "Everyone is praying for your total healing," said a third.

Away from the neighborhood, questions are still being asked about how the suspect, a 17-year-old with a long juvenile record who officials say cut off his home monitoring bracelet to join a gun fight, was allowed to serve his sentence at home instead of behind bars.

"No one wants to accept responsibility," said the city NAACP's vice president, Josephy Armstead. "That boy should never have been on the street."

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:46 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

July 7, 2009

Child shot

I return from a short vacation to deal with yet another shooting of another innocent child -- a 5-year-old hit by a stray bullet in Southwest Baltimore, apparently during an argument between two teens who should've been behind bars in the first place.

First, as I pointed out last year, it seems that every child shooting comes with its own image -- the sister of  10-year-old boy killed in 1993 holding the cap he had been wearing, fingering the bullet holes on each side; two grapefruits left on rowhouse steps, which had been carried by a boy to an elderly neighbor when a bullet cut him down last year. Now, we have this haunting picture of Raven Wyatt's sandals left behind on the street after the attack.

The suspect, a 17-year-old, had been on home detention as a juvenile offender and apparently cut off his electronic home monitoring ankle bracelet to get back onto the street. We also learn that the intended target of the shooting also was in juvenile court to face charges, but a judge evicted reporters from the courtroom.

State juvenile officials say they were searching for the 17-year-old within 15 minutes of him cutting off his monitoring device, but that was plenty of time for a little girl to get shot. The status of the suspect and his intended victim will eventually come out, but too much remains shrouded in secrecy -- their backgrounds, why and how they remain on the street despite lengthy criminal records, and their complete criminal history. We are rightfully upset they were out, but we don't know the full circumstances, and the criminal justice system will argue that we shouldn't to protect their privacy.

This shooting occurred in the area covered by the Southwest Police District where I spent time with an officer during a community ride-along. We went out with a member of the neighborhood association who does community walks and watched officer speed from call to call and make several arrests.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:15 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

July 1, 2009

Baltimore Police crime reporting on line

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III (at left talking about a drug bust, in a picture by The Sun's Barbara Haddock Taylor) went in front of the City Council Tuesday night to talk about how to best inform the public about crime through the Internet. The department through its new spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, has been experimenting with Facebook, Twitter and Nixle, a texting program in which breaking crime and other news alerts can be sent to resident's cell phones and emails in their neighborhoods.

During his discussion, Bealefeld also talked about the still-under-review policy of when and how to name officers who discharge their weapons. Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton was at the hearing and here is his story:

The hearing was called by City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who wants the city to provide citywide text or email alerts about robberies, missing persons, auto theft and violent crimes (shootings, etc.). But she also wanted the department to talk transparency when it comes to police involved shootings, an issue that has simmered in recent months.

Rawlings-Blake pointed to Chicago, where an independent police oversight commission posts investigative reports of police-involved shootings on a web site. She held up one report that was 12 pages in length and went into detail about what investigators found when they looked into one particular shooting.

Rawlings-Blake wants Baltimore police to do something similar. Bealefeld noted that his staff looked into the Chicago commission and found it had 53 investigators, 11 supervisors and a budget of $7 million. But Rawlings-Blake noted that the commission and its budget are irrelevant - she said such reports are compiled in Baltimore already by homicide investigators and later, prosecutors, and that the only issue at play here was whether to post them on the Internet or not.

"If we're already doing it, is there some reason why redacted reports are not made available?" she asked.

Bealefeld said he endorsed the idea of posting them online but stopped short of saying the department would do it. He noted that many police-involved shootings become the basis for civil lawsuits.

"That's all possible. That's where we should head. I support doing that, but we need to make sure we're covering the legal bases," he said.

Bealefeld also gave an update on the city's policy regarding naming officers who shoot or kill citizens. The department sparked controversy earlier in the year when it said it would no longer identify the officers, ending a decades-long policy citing safety concerns for the officers. Several other large cities do not name officers who shoot or kill citizens, though others continue to do so, including most Maryland jurisdictions. The department was also unable to support the notion that any officers had faced threats after their names were disclosed following a shooting.

At the urging of Mayor Sheila Dixon, Bealefeld said he would re-consider the policy. On Tuesday evening at the council hearing he said that he had met with community leaders and sought their feedback on the policy, and asked them to gather opinions from their neighbors. He also consulted a group of leaders from the faith-based community. He said he received "considerable" feedback but is still contemplating the policy; in the meantime, disclosure of officer's names remain on a case-by-case basis. It's perhaps worth noting that there hasn't been a police shooting since Bealefeld said he would rethink the policy, after a flurry of such shootings to start the year.

Also, on the notion of crime alerts and providing statistics, Bealefeld said he was all about sharing information in new and better ways, but he had serious concerns and in some cases seemed downright paranoid about posting statistics or getting too specific.  Rawlings-Blake said many cities post daily or monthly crime numbers; the department has such data at its fingertips and is shared daily in police stations among commanders. But it has yet to post it online.

Bealefeld said the danger with posting statistics is that things change. He said the department "upgrades" five times as many crimes as it "downgrades," but he said all it takes is one crime being downgraded for the public to become convinced that the department is hiding crimes.

"This police department will not get any credit for" upgrading a crime. "If we change a dot on a map, it would be more damning than opposed to having" provided no information at all, he said. The comment was similar to those he made while discussing the department's use of Twitter, the social networking site, to disseminate breaking information about crime. He said that if police initially believe 6 people have been shot and later determine after an investigation that four people were shot, some will say the police department is "yet again manipulating data."

"We don't want to create problems for ourselves," he said.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:35 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods, Police shootings, Top brass
        

June 24, 2009

Cops and The Block

So, it's midnight and I'm at The Block (for work, of course!)

Steve Cook, the owner of Oasis, invited me to see what he describes as police overkill (at left is a picture he shot of the street Monday at 12:45 a.m.) that he says is killing business. After reports of random attacks and roving groups of youths causing havoc and intimidating visitors, police sent a small army of cops to downtown. That includes the famed strip of strip clubs on East Baltimore Street.

Authorities many months ago banned parking on the street to help control the crowds. Now, to enforce that, they set orange cones along the curb and at 1 a.m. they block the street off to vehicles entirely. Then, police line the street and walk, ordering people who even pause for a second move on or face arrest.

Cook argued that his venue is being policed more harshly than at the Harbor. Imagine, he told me, if cops ordered tourists to keep walking instead of pausing to take a picture of the Constellation. But of course at the Harbor, you're expected to stop and take in the scene. At The Block, stopping on the sidewalk attracts attention and trouble. So police say, go into a club or move along.

I was coming out of Oasis and shaking hands with Cook when an officer walked by and said, "Can't stand out here gentlemen." That apparently includes the club owners.

Cook is proposing gating the street as an adult enterntainment district to keep underage people out entirely, so that they don't mix with others going from club to club. It's never easy. First cops were criticized for not having enough enforcement downtown, and now they're getting flak for too much.

I'll write about this more in Friday's paper with some answers from police and the liquor board.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:37 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

June 18, 2009

Detroit cops under-reported homicides

A story today in the Detroit News says that city's police department has routinely underreported slayings. It's worth taking a look, especially since numbers they had provided to the FBI put Baltimore in first place with the highest per-capita murder rate for city's with more than a half-million people. That ranking changed to No. 2 when Detroit police added a bunch of slayings to their total.

Now, the newspaper has found that the cops there did this often. It comes as Baltimore residents continue to question the veracity of crime stats here. While it appears Baltimore's murder numbers are accurate, I did find the Detroit story interesting in that it makes clear that the FBI wants cities to report even justified homicides. Baltimore's numbers only count unjustified killings.

I still think that for our purposes, counting only unjustified slayings makes sense in that we're trying to get an accurate count of violence. But it could be that Baltimore is underreporting its numbers to the feds. But as you'll see in the Detroit News article, what they're cops did was far worse -- misclassifying slayings as accidents and writing up as suicides cases the Medical Examiner had ruled homicides.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:49 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Confronting crime, Mapping crime, Neighborhoods
        

June 17, 2009

Embattled Ultralounge manager confronts angry residents

Louis Wood was, by his own admission, the most hated man in the room. The manager of Suite Ultralounge waited at Tuesday night's community meeting on crime to address an angry crowd, which had spent the better part of an hour complaining about crime downtown and at his club in the basement of the historic Belvedere.

Wood (seen at far right in Baltimore Sun's Karl Ferron's photo talking with former Maj. John Bailey and an official from the parking authority) told them he wanted to go last so he could listen to their concerns. His club, in the basement of the very building in which they were meeting, has been called the source and cause of neighborhood violence for months. Up until recently, the club routinely held teen-themed nights that attracted hundreds of underaged kids who when they left mixed with adult patrons of other clubs where alcohol is served.

"We also are concerned with people's safey," Wood said. The crowed booed and hissed. They weren't interested in his explanations but turned their anger on public officials, including the mayor, and demanded to know when a Circuit Court judge would rule on the club's appeal of a liquor board ruling yanking his license. The board allowed Wood to remain open pending his appeal; the judge has had the case for a month and is expected to rule any day.

"Why a month?" more than one person yelled.

"I'm probably the most unliked person in the room today," Wood said, which might have been the understatement of the evening. "If we have to, we can make changes."

Residents said it was too little too late. They complained of assaults, of kids terrorizing their neighborhood, of unprovoked attacks and intimidation, of being too scared to walk their dogs at night. I write more about those concerns in Thursday's paper. Baltimore's police commissioner walked the harbor area last weekend.

Mayor Sheila Dixon said that the liquor board "needs to be brought to the table" to hear the complaints and an assistant to City Councilman William H. Cole IV said police should have the power to close clubs for being a public nuisance, just as the health department can close restaurants and clubs for violating health standards.

Dixon called Mount Vernon "a jewel. We want people to live here. We want people to live here and work here in a safe enviroment."

Residents said that will only happen once Suite Ultralounge is shut for good.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:10 AM | | Comments (30)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

June 12, 2009

Top cop talks Inner Harbor crime and stats

Earlier this month, Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III came to the Inner Harbor to proclaim it safe and to urge people to visit the tourist attraction. He recited numbers -- assaults were down, even as people complained of more random attacks and more out-of-control kids than in year's past.

This morning on the Ed Norris show -- a former top cop interviewing another top cop on the radio -- Bealefeld finally admitted that perception might count more than stats. He also admitted what I had heard from the now former commander of the Central District, that the cops at the harbor were walking around but not doing much else. That commander ousted many long-time officers assigned there and replaced them with others.

"I think there are some real problems," Bealefeld told Norris, a more candid admission than he gave to television cameras a few weeks ago. "Certainly there are some gangs that have dome down there, but that's not new. I think there are some juvenile issues to be concerned with. But's it's a whole spectrum of problems."

Of the cops at the harbor, Bealefeld said they need to confront juveniles and talk to them, especially if they're out there at night after everything has closed. "They didn't do that out of the box," the commissioner said, noting that "perception has snowballed" that crime is out of control. "I'm not going to recite a bunch of stats about the Inner Harbor. I cannot ignore the incredible importance and significance to the entire region of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. We have to turn people's perception back around on the Harbor."

Bealefeld is batting perception and it's good that he gets that. People who are robbed aren't interested in goverment officials telling them crime is down. At the same time, Bealefeld said he goes to the Harbor a lot and has heard from business owners that they feel safer now than ever before and that he recently met a visitor who comes every year with his yacht and his grandchild. "He told me, 'I think it's the safest place in the world.' He travels the world. He doesn't have to come to Baltimore's Inner Harbor."

Eric from Baltimore asked Bealefeld whether he's confident in the accuracy of his crime stats and if crime really is down. The commissioner noted a good number, nonfatal shootings down 71 from this time last year (homicides are up slightly this year). He attributed it to having cops focus not so much on seizing guns but on arresting people with guns -- his campaign is called "bad guys with guns."

Bealefeld said he goes after cops who ignore crime, saying he's handed out 30-day suspensions to officers "who tank reports" (he ousted a commander last week after a robbery report wasn't taken). He said commanders get a daily alert on "all significant calls for service in the past 24 hours" allowing the bosses to track 911 calls through to completion. "Someone calls 911 and says, 'I got robbed.' Then we can see what the cop did. ... Why would we do that if we were tanking the number?"

Bealefeld addressed one issue that is out of his control -- the state Medical Examiner classifies many deaths as undetermined, raising questions that he's indefinitely holding off calling them murders to keep the city's numbers low. The ME has told me he rules that way in many drug overdose cases -- unlike his colleagues in many states who rule them accidental.

The commissioner said his dedicated group of homicide detectives work hard, "I don't think their agenda is to do anything less than justice. No body will tell you that Fred Bealefeld comes to roll call and tells them to bury bodies in Leakin Park."

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:50 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods, Top brass
        

June 9, 2009

Beautifying boarded houses

Sunday's column on various ways to beautify boarded rowhouses makes me think of one of my first stories I did in Israel when I covered the Middle East -- the Israeli Army hired a public relations firm to beautify the battle scenes.

The company urged soldiers to paint weapons that shot rubber bullets, to differentiate between live rounds, and to clean up debris left behind after firefights. It doesn't make the battles less severe or less deadly, but looks better on television.

That's what Baltimore did five years ago when the housing department hired a company called Creative Camouflage to glue pictures of windows and doors to boards covering entrances on thousands of vacant rowhouses. Only a few got done and now the city appears to be backing off its enthusiasm for the project.

I spent some time out in the city photographing various ways to board up houses and some neat decorations. Here are a few examples. The first is from Creative Camouflage, showing what they can do; next to that is a scene from a boarded house on East North Avenue; to the right is a house that Creative Camouflage did five years ago, showing how neglect has taken over; then there is an example of simply bricking up a house permanently; then there's a painted scene of a boy and girl I saw in Wyman Park.

Below the pics, Bill Coleman of Creative Camouflage responds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Continue reading "Beautifying boarded houses" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:22 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

June 8, 2009

Baltimore police commander ousted

The ousting on Friday of the commander of Baltimore's Central District (Maj. John Bailey, left) following a spate of crime, some of it random attacks, and the bad handling of an assault on a nanny in Bolton Hill, shows the department is serious about confronting problems.

Though it's somewhat confounding that police for weeks have said crime is down in the Inner Harbor and downtown, with the commissioner playing tourist-in-chief during an appearance last week at the harbor to urge people to come and shop, while at the same time flooding the area with cops and removing a top commander.

Bailey, who appeared in a column I wrote a couple weeks ago on the downtown scene and was pictured talking with a city councilman outside the Belvedere Hotel, where a club has given residents and police problems, has been replaced.

It was, according to a report by Baltimore Sun police reporter Justin Fenton, an attack on a nanny in Bolton Hill that closed the coffin on Bailey. His officers responded to a call that the nanny, from China, was choked, beaten, separated from her baby and then had her iPod stolen, but wrote it up as a "police information." The department then told The Sun they had recorded the incident as a larceny, only to upgrade it to an assault and robbery after the newspaper inquired.

The department said officers had trouble understanding the victim; the victim said she was given a choice -- a report could be filed or the officer's could search for suspects. That this occurred barely a half hour after Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III complained to television cameras that citizens don't believe him when he says crime is down, that he's accused of "fuzzy math" when crime stats are concerned, didn't help Bailey's future.

The officers who responded to the call either purposely downgraded the call, by not reporting it all, or they were too lazy to properly investigate. Either way, Bealefeld doesn't tolerate such inaction, and that's a good thing. Mayor Sheila Dixon told me on Friday, "The officer and his supervisor need to be held accountable for the way they handled the Bolton Hill incident."

Hiding crime doesn't make it go away, and the department can't fight crime if it doesn't know it occurred. There are lots of great police officers out there -- we met on on Friday, Syreeta Teel, who rescued the pit bull that was set on fire in West Baltimore last month. The commissioner, his command staff and the mayor joined in to celebrate her work.

Too bad they had to turn around a few hours later and deal with a problem.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods, Top brass
        

Business says crime forcing it out of city

A Mid-town venture capital firm announced in an e-mail to the mayor last week that it was moving out of Baltimore because of crime. The mayor expressed doubts that was the true reason, but either way it's an economic loss for the city at a time when people are fearing a series of random attacks from Federal Hill to Bolton Hill.

While city leaders scramble to downplay the incidents and repeat stastics that crime is down, they are moving up to 50 cops, including undercover detectives, to the Inner Harbor and downtown areas.

Mayor Sheila Dixon, talking with me on Friday, noted that a recent reported attack on a youth at the Inner Harbor turned out to be staged as a gang initiation ceremony. The kids are from Federal Hill's Digital Harbor school, and while the scenario shows that this attack wasn't random, it doesn't do much to alleviate concerns that gangs are not downtown.

Here is the e-mail from New Enterprise Associates' general counsel, Louis Citron:

Dear Mayor Dixon,
 
My name is Louis Citron and I am the General Counsel at New Enterprise Associates.  We are a venture capital firm located at 1119 St. Paul Street and have been located in the mid town/Belvedere hotel area for nearly 30 years.  We have approximately 35 employees located at this office.  I also live in Roland Park.
 
We would like you to know that New Enterprise Associates has decided to move its Baltimore city office to Timonium.  We calculated that our decision will cost the merchants in this neighborhood at least $200,000 per year in revenue as we are terminating, among others, our cleaning service and security guard, and will no longer be paying for parking spaces in the local garages, and no longer buying our lunches from local restaurants and the Maryland Club.
 
Our decision was a result of the high level of crime in our neighborhood.  Over the last several years, many of our cars have been broken into resulting in very expensive repairs, our employees have been robbed at gun point, drug needles and used condoms have been left on our front stoop, and psychotic homeless people have menaced our employees and threatened to kill them.  We have voiced our frustrations to the local community leaders and police, but the environment has only worsened.  The recent local beatings by roving teenagers during the day in this neighborhood, the raucous club in the basement of the Belvedere, and other gang violence throughout the city reinforces the appropriateness of New Enterprise Associates’ decision to move in order to protect its employees.
 
At this point, our decision is set in motion and cannot be reversed.  However, we sincerely hope that you and the city council are able to rectify these problems as we are certain other businesses also will leave the city over time.  Further, now that I no longer work in the city, I might move my family out of the city too if violence and crime continue to increase in the Roland Park area.  I pay too much in taxes now to live in fear and to have sewer lines back up on a regular basis into my home.
 
We wish you and the city only the best of luck in addressing these issues and hope that you are successful.  It is in no one’s interest to see Baltimore be viewed by the nation as a crime ridden and violent city that is totally out of control.
 
I would be happy to further discuss at your convenience.

A day after that e-mail was sent, on Thursday, the Downtown Partnership, the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association and the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore sent out a statement about crime:

Continue reading "Business says crime forcing it out of city" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:06 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

June 4, 2009

Nanny mugged in Bolton Hill

Monday's attack on a nanny in Bolton Hill is scary for many reasons -- it happened in broad daylight, a woman was approached by two men, one of whom put her in a choke hold, the other separated her from the 8-month-old girl she was watching and rifled through the baby carriage, and the police response was questionable.

I spoke with the victim, Siwei Yao, on Tuesday and wrote about her experience in today's paper. The Chineses national has only been in this country for six months, and what struck me was when I asked her what she told her friends and family back home about what had happened.

It was that her neighbors flocked to the home after the attack, offered to help her and invited her to joint their group as they took babies for walks. That wouldn't happen in China, the 25-year nanny told me, and that, was the message she sent home.

Last night, the baby's father, Travis Hardaway, sent me this summary of events. It's long, but I think important to hear from people directly impacted by crime:

Continue reading "Nanny mugged in Bolton Hill" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:01 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Breaking news, Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

June 2, 2009

Gunshot detection

I last wrote about an experiment at Johns Hopkins University in which 93 sound sensors were set up to detect gunshots. The location is then projected onto a computer screen in the security office. Washington D.C. police have a similar program -- Baltimore's is called SECURES Gunshot Detection System -- and laud it as a great tool for responding quickly to gunfire.

Baltimore police have been skeptical but the free Hopkins trial allows them to test the system. I've questioned it's location in a relatively safe area of town -- from November to December of last year, only two noises registered as possible gunshot and one of those was a firecracker.

I asked Hopkins for an update from spokeswoman Tracey A. Reeves and she told me: "It’s still too early to make a case for or against the SECURES system or whether it should or will be expanded. But we can say that  anytime you have a tool that can help you with investigations and provide another layer of security, it’s worthwhile.”

Here are some details:

Continue reading "Gunshot detection" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 12:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Mapping crime, Neighborhoods
        

May 28, 2009

Clergy wants rec money restored

In May 2000, Douglas I. Miles, then the head of a group of Baltimore churches, stood on the steps of a East Baltimore rowhouse and called for a renewed effort by faith leaders reduce violence and help the police.

On Wednesday, eight years and more than 2,000 murders later, Miles joined another inter-faith group, including Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, to again call for an end to violence, particularly among the city's youth.

This time, the clergy has more of a plan, including asking for school building to remain open in the summer to serve as safe havens and for a weekend Sabbath next month in which people will be asked to donate $1 to help fund Operation Safe Streets, a project run by the city's health department in which street counselors mediate gang disputes. They also pledged to hold more job fairs and work closely with neighborhood groups.

The religious leaders, in unison, called on Mayor Sheila Dixon to restore funds to keep rec centers, pools and libraries open. Miles, who now heads the advocacy group Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, was the most forceful critic of budget cuts (the City Council has to vote on the budget before July 1). "Whether we stand under the cross, bow to the Star of David or kiss the stone of Mecca, we stand together and say the violence must end," Miles said.

Budget cuts mean difficult decisions must be made, but I'm not sure we can describe the $65 million shortfall in the terms used by Dixon's spokesman, Scott Peterson, who told me "we're racing against a global meltdown" and we're facing "economic catastrophe." He added that "no one wants to shut down a rec center or anything for a kid," and I believe that, but the message being sent by shuttering any when people are still getting killed is a bad one.

There is an effort underway to save the Police Athletic Leage Centers -- two are being closed and others are being folded into Rec and Parks -- and I've stated before that I think the PAL Centers started with good intentions but have now been largely abandoned by the city (starting several police commissioners ago).

Peterson send me a link to an interesting report by the PEW Foundation that compares the budgets from several cities, including Baltimore's, and what each are doing while facing budget problems.

Miles' organization is holding a meeting tonight to press the issue of PAL Centers:

Continue reading "Clergy wants rec money restored" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 1:38 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

May 27, 2009

Top cop talks crime ...

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III gave an interview to the Internet site Exhibit A, in which he talks about crime, police overtime and staffing and frustrated officers and citizens.

It comes as the top cop releases figures showing that crime has dropped in Baltimore this year, good news for the city and the department. In Friday's paper, I'll be examining whether a 9 percent crime drop or a 5 percent crime increase really mean anything to anybody. We have a disconnect between cops saying crime is dropping and people reporting that crime is out of control.

Here is an exerpt of the interview with Bealefeld (the entire interview can be reached through the link above):

They [people] get bombarded with the negative. And it’s not smoke and mirrors. People perceive that. They say, “It’s just fuzzy math – the crime rate’s not really going down, look at all this unreported crime.” There was a big push on that when I first got here, there was a lot of noise about all the numbers, and [people saying] it’s a lie, and part of that is fed by disgruntled people. We had people working against us inside the police department. I had to get rid of them. And there were people who focused on the anecdotal and, God bless them, here’s a reality: You think cops up here in the early 1980s weren’t taking reports? You think cops in the ’90s weren’t taking reports? And so, in 2008 when people say “Oh, my gosh, they didn’t take a report!” It’s happened before.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 12:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods, Top brass
        

Cops taking citizens out on patrol

At tonight's meeting of the Central District Police Community Relations Council (at MICA's main building, Room 110, at 7 p.m.), residents will be able to sign up to ride with a cop for an evening on June 26. I'm pleased city police are giving people an opportunity to see what it's like from the point of view of a squad car and I encourage people living in the neighborhood to sign up -- it's a great opportunity.

Here are some details from Sgt. Charlie Hess, the neighborhood services officer for the Central District:

One item I was going to bring up at our meeting is a Citywide ridealong on Friday, June 26, 2009 on the 4-12 shift. The ridealong is meant to make citizens aware of normal  patrol officers activities and to enhance communication and  citizen involvement in community relations activities. At 8:00 pm the citizens will be brought to H.Q.`s Atrium for a discussion about the evening`s events. Refreshments will be served

The Central District will be able to accommodate twenty five participants in the ridealong. Any Central District community leader, neighborhood crime and safety coordinator or concerned citizen interested in going on the ridealong can contact me by phone or e-mail and I`ll add your name to the participants list until the twenty five spaces are filled.

News reporters used to be able to accompany cops on a routine basis but that practice has all but ended with requirements that include mandating a public affairs official to be in the car and other obstacles. We at The Sun would love to see the gun squad in action, spend an evening with officers at the Inner Harbor, but we'll have to rely on participants to let us know what happens.

I'd love to hear from people who took part in this program and for you to write me your experiences, thoughts and perceptions. One of the biggest complaints I hear at every community meeting is that people call 911 for nuisance crimes (including prostitution, which I wrote about today) and the cops simply does a "drive-by." For you spending time with an officer, I'd like to know if your perception changes after a few hours in a patrol car.

In a post yesterday, I discussed how I spent time in downtown, Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill on Saturday night, touring with a city councilman, and I didn't get any feedback. Please let me know about crime, especially on weekend nights when the clubs are full and the Masonic lodges on Eutaw Street rent out their spaces to partiers. 

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:38 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

May 20, 2009

Teddy Bears Stolen

Just when you thought the crooks in this city had stolen everything they possibly could, the ante gets upped: overnight, someone stole four teddy bears that were among 80 put on display at the city's NAACP office to honor victims of homicide.

I had written a column on the artist, Faith Bocian, a student at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, and blogged about the ceremony. I headed up to the building  to see what happened. At left, Officer Michael Gordon of the Northern District looks at the display with Joseph Armstead of the NAACP. "Who could have the indeciency to do somthing like this," Gordon said (I'll have a fuller story on this issue in tomorrow's column).

Armstead told me that one of the executive committee members noticed this morning that a tarp put over the display had been torn and that four plastic links securing the bears to a railing had been cut. Each bear had a nametag on it with the name of a person who had been killed this year.

Just why would anyone steal a bear that honors a murder victim?

"It's a real touching memorial," Armstead told me. "Times are hard. Maybe a junkie would figure he could get a bag of dope for four teeddy bears. A parent with some crazy thinking might think her babdy might like this. Or maybe someone anti-establishment wanted to destroy the piece. Who knows?”

At 1 p.m., Armstead was headed back into the city to call police -- "For the statistic, I guess" -- he told me. Meanwhile, the "I Can't, We Can" drug rehab group has vowed to help Faith keep the project going so that by the end of the year there is a bear for every person killed in Baltimore.

Faith told me she might move the exhibit to a museum or even to a rolling display so that everyone in the city could see it. I was touched that one of the city police officer's who responded to investigate the theft took the time to actually look at the display and find names of victims from cases he investigated.

In that way, Faith's idea to provoke thought worked, even it if took something bad to get it going. Armstead said he thinks students from nearby Margaret Brent Elementary School took the bears and he told me the vice principal is going to make an announcement tomorrow to get the bears returned. Armstead said he wouldn't press charges if a child took them; he even agreed to help mentor kids and to take 50 of them to an Orioles game.

Maybe something good can from this after all.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 1:01 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Breaking news, Neighborhoods
        

More violence in Charles Village

The recent and latest attacks in Mount Vernon on Saturday, May 9, has sparked more people to write in about violence in the area. Chris Brown, who works at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote me about an attack May 17 on her son's roommate.

She questioned how Baltimore police responded to this and I'm checking with the department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, to see if a report was written on the incicent. It happened a week after a man and a woman were brutally attacked just before a Circuit Court judge heard an appeal from the owners of Suite Ultralonge, located in the basement of the Belvedere, a number of blocks south of where this latest attack occurred, who are appealing a decision by the liquor board to pull their license to sell alcohol after a scuffle led to a shooting on the street outside earlier this year.

City Councilman William H. Cole represents the area and wrote this in response to the complaints:

There have been a number of attacks in recent weeks that match the MO you describe. Unfortunately, we are not dealing with one group. For example, the attackers on Charles Street two weekends ago were all female; the attackers on Calvert Street were a mixture of males and females.

Councilman Young and I have both been in direct contact with Central District Major John Bailey and with Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld. The police department has deployed a number of additional resources in the area until this recent wave of assaults is extinguished. I was out last Saturday night between 10PM and 1AM riding through the area to see the police coverage and it was definitely visible. While the largest concentration is around the Belvedere (which is likely the source of these teenagers), they are also canvassing the area and keeping a close eye on large gatherings.

If the Circuit Court upholds the decision of the liquor board regarding the club in the basement of the Belvedere, I firmly believe that we will rid the area of a true nuisance establishment. The appeal hearing was last week and we expect the judge will rule within the next 2-3 weeks.

Here is the e-mail Chris Brown sent me:

Continue reading "More violence in Charles Village" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:43 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

May 19, 2009

Prostitutes in Charles Village

I spent some time Monday night with members of the Old Goucher Community Association, who are fed up with transgender prostitutes that proliferate Calvert and St. Paul streets between East 20 and 25 streets.

The met with Northern District Police Officer Douglas C. Gibson Jr. who explained the difficulties of cleaning the area up, and ones I'll explore in a column this week. One woman, a public health nurse who moved here from Portland, wrote an e-mail saying she was tired of finding used condoms out back and "of being picked up on when ever I go out and sit on the steps on St. Paul -- the first time a guy asked me if I was working I didn't even know what he was asking -- I said -- 'Yeah, I work, I'm a nurse.'"

Residents asked the officer if the city could establish a Prostitution Free Zone, as allowed for under the city charter. But Gibson said those laws, good-intentioned as they may have been when formed, don't work that well. As with Drug-Free Zones, police can't simply sweep the area of loiterers; they have to prove the people were loitering for the purpose of selling drugs or engaging in prostitution. And if they can prove that, then they can charge with with the underlying offenses.

I walked the streets with a community association member for a bit last night and two prostitutes passed my car as soon as I parked on East 21st Street. I saw several, including one man wearing a thong and little else standing on a corner next to Lovely Lane United Methodist Church (where hours later the community meeting had been held).

None of the women "working" were loud or obnoxious, though several were talking on their cell phones. I saw no pickups, but I was only out for about 20 minutes. Residents describe loud arguments, shouting and a coordinated effort by the workers to vaporize as soon as a police car drives by. One police commander told me the area is noted on Craigslist as the place to come for a male prostitute dressed as a woman.

Other neighborhoods have tried various ways eradicate the problem -- Curitis Bay and Brooklyn want police to send letters to men who circle blocks looking for women to scare them away; Gibson said the Northern District major and deputy major hit the streets recently and stopped four cars, but one driver was single ("a letter wouldn't do much good") and two others were from out of state and in rental cars, so the letter would go to the car company, not their homes.

In Pigtown, residents hit the streets armed with video cameras and photograph women and men, and their license plates, and post the information on the Internet. But I just noticed today that Baltimore John Watch has been removed, so that might not even be up and running anymore.

Residents also demanded that officers who respond to their calls get out of their cars instead of just driving by; Gibson said it's hard to move people who are just standing around, as they aren't breaking any laws. To get a good arrest takes a sting operation in which cops pose as johns and get the workers to admit they are exchanging sex for money. It's takes a lot of work and time, and even then the workers escape with probation.

Here are some e-mails from concerned residents:

Continue reading "Prostitutes in Charles Village" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:25 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

May 14, 2009

Top cop lashes out at police-run rec centers

Last night's City Council hearing on the Baltimore police budget focused in part on plans by the city to shutter the Police Athletic League program and turn centers run by cops for years to Rec and Parks.

I've been writing a lot about this issue here and in my column, mainly because this program was once hailed as the centerpiece of police administrations past. As I discovered when the city first announced the program, once copied all over the country, was being shut down, the city hasn't cared about PAL in a long time. They shut down the nonprofit that used to be used to raise money, more than $1.7 million a year at one point, and the centers are shadows of their former selves.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III doesn't want PAL Centers. Fair enough, and given their current state, I agree the children need something better. The commissioner last night quoted from one of my columns in which a girl told me she liked the cop at her PAL center but not the ones who patrol the streets. Bealefeld doesn't want that division.

The Baltimore Sun's Justin Fenton was at the hearing and here is his report:

Councilman Warren M. Branch challenged the police department and mayor’s office on criminal justice as to why they weren’t pursuing grant money to keep the PAL centers open. He noted that with summer rapidly approaching, his 13th District had very few safe recreational options for children.

Bealefeld gently mocked the idea that PAL centers had been promoted as the “backbone” of the police department’s outreach efforts, saying that it represented only 24 of the 2,400 officers in the agency. He said most beat cops “don’t even know that PAL centers exist” and said the children who attend them “might as well be anonymous,” and said the notion that they were a major outreach effort had been “excellent cover” for his predecessors.

He quoted from my column, in which I visited a PAL center and a young girl said the officer at the PAL center was nice, but the ones she sees on the streets were “different” and hassle people for no reason.

“I gotta tell you, that right there, that paragraph made the point in a way that I struggled with trying to make throughout this process,” Bealefeld said. “I cannot have kids in this city seeing one officer at a time as a good guy, and the other 2,400 as the ‘other guys.’  I have to figure out a way, to close that gap.”

To solve that problem, Bealefeld said police on day and night shifts will now be required to visit all recreational centers, not just PAL centers. “As long as those centers are open, cops will be required to go there throughout the day. And their supervisors will be required to make sure that they go there,” he said.

Branch wasn’t convinced.  He said his daughter will have to travel further to get to the nearest recreational center, and he worries that she will encounter gangs and could be hurt, or even worse, killed.

Bealefeld acknowledged the point, and noted that police are actively involved in the Eastern District – including the Police Explorers program, a “young girls to ladies” program, and other efforts. He also said the district had achieved the biggest drop in homicides, on a percentage basis, of any district in the city last year.

“We are tasking our police commands to maximize the programs that they are involved in,” he said.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

May 13, 2009

Update on Ultralounge

The Baltimore Sun's Justin Fenton attended this morning's hearing on Club Ultralounge, whose owners are asking a city judge to overturn a liquor board ruling to revoke the nightclub's license to sell alcohol.

And lest I forget, a helpful reader reminded me that in a previous story, we noted that a Bloods gang was caught in a police wiretap using the Belvedere as a meeting place to talk about drugs and other business. This is the same gang whose jailed members complained they couldn't get lobster smuggled inside.

Here is the account:

About 70 people – including two who were attacked over the weekend near the Belvedere hotel in Mount Vernon – attended a hearing Wednesday morning where the owners of a club linked to area violence asked a Baltimore Circuit Court judge to reverse the liquor board’s decision to revoke the club’s license.

Peter A. Prevas, an attorney for Louis V. Wood, the owner of Suite Ultralounge, argued that a new law governing BYOB “bottle clubs” that went into effect last year was “sloppy” and unclear, and said the club’s due process rights had been violated at a revocation hearing. The club operates from the basement of the historic Belvedere hotel and attracts a hip-hop crowd that sometimes swells to hundreds, though the hotel houses other bars as well.

But attorneys for the city and neighborhood association said the liquor board was within its rights to shut down the bottle club. At a hearing last fall, police and community members said the club had been linked to an uptick in violence in the trendy neighborhood, including a double shooting and a stabbing on Oct. 11. The club’s license was revoked in November, but it has remained open pending the appeal. Since then, the violence and noise complaints have only gotten worse, residents said.

“The liquor board has to ensure the safety,” said Alice G. Pinderhughes, representing the liquor board. “There is a danger to this community, and [the board] has to be able to do something.”

In attendance were two people who said they were attacked in separate incidents on Saturday night that residents believe stem from the club. Both said they were passing through the area on their way home when they became victims of unprovoked attacks.

A female victim sporting a black eye said she was attacked from behind by a group of young females who choked and struck her, and a 30-year-old man said he was also attacked while walking in the area. He did not remember the incident, due to a concussion, but his wounds told the story:  cuts above and below his eye, which was nearly swollen shut, two missing teeth and 14 stitches to his lip.

“I don’t want this to happen to any of my friends or co-workers,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.

Judge Kaye A. Allison said she would issue a written decision following the hearing.

 

Posted by Peter Hermann at 1:21 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

Ultralounge hearing over

Justin Fenton just returned from the hearing on whether the basement Belvedere club Ultralounge can stay open. A Baltimore Circuit Court Judge will rule within 30 days; the hearing itself went back and forth with bar representatives arguing over liquor laws and Mount Vernon residents saying the situation has gotten worse since a shooting a few months ago.

I've posted several stories from victims here; a man and woman who were beaten up Saturday night attended this morning's hearing. The Liquor Board revoked the club's license but it has remained open pending its appeal, which was heard this morning.

I'll keep you up to date.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 12:40 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

Ultralounge hearing still going on

The Baltimore Sun's police reporter, Justin Fenton, is still at the Circuit Court hearing where the owners for basement Belvedere club Ultralounge is fighting its liquor license revocation. Several people have asked for an update and I'll provide one as soon as he returns.

Meanwhile, more people have e-mailed me stories of violence and other problems. There were two more attacks on Saturday that I posted this morning. Here are some additional stories:

"Thank you so much for keeping us informed of the situation with this club. I live in the neighborhood and have become increasingly worried about the crowd on Saturday nights. And now I read your recent posting and realize that my worst fears have been realized. I witnessed the crowd of “club-goers” out on the corner of Saint Paul and Chase that evening and am just glad that I wasn’t one of those who were assaulted. 

I was not able to attend the hearing this morning but would greatly appreciate it if you could keep us all up-to-date on what is going on with this club. The club-owners have proven that they are utterly irresponsible and I hope that they are shut down permanently. In fact, I hope that they are never allowed to open a club anywhere ever again. They and their patrons have complete disregard for the neighborhood, not to mention the historic building that they are “partying” in.

I cannot emphasize how much I am scared and disgusted by this. This is our neighborhood, our city and I refuse to let it get to the point where we’re afraid to simply step out of our front doors on a Saturday night. Hopefully the city will do what is right and protect the safety of its citizens.  The incidents mentioned in your blog obviously point to a much larger problem simmering up in Baltimore, but hopefully we can start by at least taking one step in the right direction. Thank you again for keeping us up-to-date, Colby Johnson."

From a resident who didn't want her name used:

"Thanks so much for again raising the crime factor and undesirable element generated by the bottle club at the Belvedere. While I can’t attest to the crime (which is indeed frightening) I can tell you how it affects me as a resident of the 1000 block of Charles Street.
 
I love living in Mt. Vernon -- except on nights when the Club is open. I live between two parking lots on Morton Street in a small condo on the fourth floor. The noise from the denizens of the Club (and yes, I know they are coming from the Ultrasuede rather than the Hippo or Grand Central) is unbearable.

They park (illegally) in the spaces around my building, drink bottles of whatever is left over after they leave the club (or before they get there) and dump the empties in the lot or the alley by my door, blare their urban hip hop trash music until I can’t get back to sleep, and shout to each other in ghetto speak that would defy even the Big Phat Morning Team.
 
I dodge broken glass, fast food wrappers, and urine just to get to my car (and yes, it has been rifled, too.)
 
I’m sure the club will contend that “anyone” could be the offenders, and I’m not going to confront them to publicly say otherwise.  But after more than a year, I have become fluent enough to translate their language, and that’s the sewer they’re coming from.
 
I’m a hostage in my own home.  Worse, I can’t say anything about it because they know where I live.
 
Please post this anonymously on your blog. I don’t mean to trivialize the crime aspect. But when that furor dies down, the nuisance factor is an ongoing, every night problem that people are afraid to address, lest they seem “insensitive” to other cultures, or even racist.  This isn’t a race issue – it’s the right of the taxpaying residents of this city to be able to sleep at night and not have their neighborhood trashed.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 12:12 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

More violence from Belvedere?

The owners of Suite Ultralounge at the Belvedere in Mid-Town are appealing a decision by the liquor board to revoke their bottle license, even as reports of more violence are blamed on the night spot.

The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. today at Baltimore Circuit Court, 111 N. Calvert St., in Room 403.

The Liquor Board revoked its license after several incidents of violence, including a shooting, were linked to it. It is one of, if not the, last bottle club in the city, which essentially are BYOB bars. Residents of the condo and neighbors have long complained that the club didn't fit into the historic building and neighborhood.

Below are some chilling tales posted as neighborhood crime alerts. Both occurred Saturday night, according to the victims, and I have inquires into city police and will advise:

Continue reading "More violence from Belvedere?" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:01 AM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

May 11, 2009

Find crime in Baltimore County

Want to know how many burglaries have occurred in your Baltimore County neighborhood? Or parking complaints? Now you can know with the Baltimore Sun's new crime map for Baltimore County, launched today.

It took a while, but now we have crime maps on line for Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, along with a homicide map for the city. We hope to add more in the near future. It should be a great help in figuring out what is occurring where you live. Play around with it for a while and let us know what you think.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:08 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Breaking news, Mapping crime, Neighborhoods
        

May 1, 2009

Baltimore cops have always felt short-staffed

The year was 1999 and Baltimore police commanders were tired of seeing empty patrol cars sitting on lots as crime was spiraling out of control. The two chiefs of patrol put pen to paper and wrote a memo that for once owned up to the harsh reality:

It said staffing was "inadequate at best" and warned that "no shift, will, in the future, hit the streets without the required manpower to cover all posts." The commanders authorized overtime pay to fill the slots.

At that time, the force's strength was 3,188 officers (today it's 3,071) and police commanders were quick to criticize their underlings: "They are personnel managers," one colonel told me then. "They have to work around these obstacles and earn their money."

Countered the police union president at the time: "You can't have a job that requires 20 police officers, give commanders 10 and then blame them for not getting the job done."

It's a battle that is waged in virtually every job across the country. Only ones involving police involve public safety. And the cop who risked his career to take me out to show low staffing levels this week demonstrated just how bad it is. This cop jumped from call to call, often falling behind "in-progess" calls that ordinarily would require immediate response.

Police have tried all sorts of things to increase staffing. One commissioner even put two cops in every patrol car, introducing the old concept of "partners" for the very first time in Baltimore, but that experiment was short-lived when millions of dollars of overtime money ran out. Now the city doesn't even have enough overtime money to staff all the cars it needs with one officer.

Police say they are only 15 officers down and that will change when the next academy class begins next month. Back in 1998, police had 200 openings but also had another 200 officers out on long-term medical leave. If the numbers city police are giving me are correct, they've solve that problem. But each district still has officers out on sick leave, suspension, vacation, military duty, etc. That's how you get empty patrol cars while still being "fully staffed."

But no matter how bad it seems now, the past is worse. In 1999, the comander of the Northeastern District on Argonne Drive shut his station to the public from midnight to 7 a.m., putting up a sign directing people to a payphone if they needed to call 911. Interesting, because in the district I visited this week, the commander did call two cops in on overtime to help fill spots, but one of those officers had to work the desk.

I heard this from a police officer this morning:

Continue reading "Baltimore cops have always felt short-staffed" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 1:26 PM | | Comments (5)
        

April 27, 2009

Teen killed near Rosemont community center

"It's not even summer yet."

That's the lament this morning from Richard Mosley in the aftermath of a double shooting Saturday night that left a teenager dead and another teen seriously wounded in Southwest Baltimore's Rosemont community.

The shooting occurred on Normount Avenue, just two blocks from where Mosley's son, Sean, lives, who last weekend graciously gave me a tour of his neighborhood. The Rosemont Police Athletic League Center, a block away from the shooting scene, is scheduled to close July 1 and Sean, a starter for the University of Maryland basketball team, grew up playing at the center. At left, in a photo taken by the Baltimore Sun's Chiaki Kawajiri, Sean walks by a playground near his home in Rosemont.

As I walked with Sean and his father, both talked about the importance of role models and the burden that Sean, a star in the community as well as in the state, has in mentoring young kids. Both think closing the PAL center -- along with others -- is a terrible idea. I watched Sean talk with kids on a basketball court and look at graffiti next to the court that mourned young men lost to the drug wars. "I probably know some of them," he told me.

This morning, after the shooting Saturday night, I called Richard Mosley and he told me his son knew both young men who had been shot, including Maurice Toomer, 17, who was killed. "He was distraught," the elder Mosley said. He said his son stayed on campus this past weekend and wasn't home. The shootings occurred about 8:30 p.m.

Richard Mosley said that police both on foot and in patrol cars were all over the neighborhood Saturday night and all day Sunday. He was happy to see them, but said, "Why do they always come after-the-fact? They know what goes on in this neighborhood."

With the PAL center closing, there will be even fewer cops in the community. Mosley is reaching out to nonprofits in hopes of getting money not only to keep the center open, but to hire off-duty officers to staff it.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:21 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

April 23, 2009

Forging parking passes

A reader raised a good question yesterday about why city prosecutors went after a man accused of forging a parking pass and selling it on the Internet under what seemed an obscure state law when the city statute appears to be much clearer and more on point.

Prosecutors worked out a plea deal in which the suspect agreed to 100 hours of community service and forfeit his parking rights in South Baltimore's Otterbein neighborhood in exchange for getting the charges dropped.

His lawyer had been prepared to argue that the state law didn't apply because it covered the forging of "tokens" that needed to be inserted into the box, which doesn't seem to cover passes put on dashboards or affixed to windshields. Prosecutors disagreed, but the plea agreement allowed both sides to avoid the argument. I wrote in my column that the law should be clearer and Bob Harkum, the chair of the Residential Parking Permit Board, pointed out that the city statue is indeed clear:

"No person may copy, create, or otherwise produce any counterfeit or facsimile of a residential area parking permit."

So why, Harkum asked, didn't prosecutors charge under this statute instead of the state one?

I got an answer today. Prosecutors told me they still believe the state statute applies but could've easily charged the suspect with violating the city code as well. Either way, a spokeswoman told me they believe the deal they struck was appropriate.

Assistant State's Attorney Lauren Poke wrote: "I could have added the the city code charge and I may have done so if it had gone to trial. However I believed the best resolution for the defendant with no prior record of arrests or convictions was to have him forfeit his privileges and serve the community he was defrauding."

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:16 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

April 22, 2009

Parking woes

Today's column on a plea deal in a forged parking pass case raised an interesting question: Why did the State's Attorney's Office charge a man accused of trying to sell a fake pass on the Internet under a seemingly obtuse state statute when they could've used a more clearly written city law?

The attorney for the suspect argued that his client was charged under the wrong law because it made illegal the use of fake "tokens" that need to be inserted into a box. That obviously isn't the way parking passes put on dashboards or attached to windshields work. His client agreed to community service and to forfeit his parking rights in exchange for criminal charges being dropped.

Bob Harkum, the chair of the Residential Parking Permit Board, wrote me this about the city law, and I'm awaiting an answer from prosecutors:

§ 10-42.  Counterfeiting or altering permit.
 
 No person may:
 
  (1) copy, create, or otherwise produce any counterfeit or facsimile of a residential area parking permit; or
 
  (2) alter any permit issued under this subtitle to change its expiration date or any condition of its use.
 
You also may not show an invalid permit, sell or require use of a valid one, falsify information or help someone falsify information or get a permit to which they are not entitled. I was expecting, on this Craigslist caper, the $500 Civil Citation, as criminal charges on first time, etc. seemed stiff, BUT is doable under CITY Law:
 
§ 10-52.  Prohibited conduct – Criminal penalties.
 
 Any person who violates any provision of Part VII {"Prohibited Conduct"} of this subtitle is guilty of a misdemeanor and, on conviction, is subject to fine of not more than $1,000 or to imprisonment for not more than 12 months or to both fine and imprisonment for each offense.
(Ord. 06-316,)
 
The Civil Citation:
 
§ 10-51.  Prohibited conduct – Enforcement by citation.
 
 (a)  In general.
 
  In addition to any other civil or criminal remedy or enforcement procedure, Part VII {"Prohibited Conduct"} of this subtitle may be enforced by issuance of a civil citation under City Code Article 1, Subtitle 41 {"Civil Citations"}.
 
 (b)  Process not exclusive.
 
  The issuance of a citation to enforce Part VII of this subtitle does not preclude pursuing any other civil or criminal remedy or enforcement action authorized by law.
(Ord. 06-316,)
 
We  worked very hard to make all the element that naturally follow out of your "common sense tells you..." a reality in the City Law. I checked RPP Laws all around the country (check how stiff LA's "Preferred Parking" -- their RPP- fines and rules are) before presenting to Council a request to add sections to RPP re: Prohibited Conduct and Penalties.
 
Why States Attys decided to use that section of code to charge Foster is beyond me. 
 
We had hoped that compliance with the law really would rely on the stiff Civil fines that were put in place.
 
Be nice if you added a follow up: "For those of you cranking up the Printer/Scanners because of Foster case"..., know that CITY law does prohibit "screwing with the program."  PCA's are now testing marking the 2 hour window via computer-equipped vehicles with OTR and GPS.  We are working on the link to MOIT/PA for updates re: who has moved out and no longer has valid decal/permits. 
 
City residents who live in RPP areas should have as much a right to expect a possible parking space on their return from 8 hours as much as anyone who lives with a 20' foot curb cut giving them exclusive street space rights to a driveway to pull in right next to his house.
 
We're trying to make that happen.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 12:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

April 17, 2009

Baltimore police to text crime alerts

It appears that the Baltimore Police Department is embarking on a test-run to text crime alerts to residents' cell phones. After saying the idea, which is used by many departments around the country including the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, was being studied, officials launched it today in the Southeastern District.

No announcement was made but for an e-mail sent out by the head of the Southeastern Police District's Community Relations Council, copying a statement from the district commander, Maj. Roger Bergeron.

I confirmed the start of this new program with the Police Department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, who told me it's a 30-day pilot run and if it works it will be implemented across the city: "If we're going to be successful in further lowering crime, the community needs to be a partner. Part of Frederick Bealefeld's strategy is not only to get cops out of cars to interact with residents and business owners, but arming the community with information so they can help us help them."

Here is the statement from Bergeron:

"I am proud to announce that the SED will be the pilot district for a community alert system. The system will go online today, Friday, April 17. We will run this pilot for 30 days and evaluate its effectiveness at the end. If successful it is anticipated that we will continue its use. This program will allow subscriber's to receive alerts via cell phone text message or email as they wish. The information put out will include information as to major crime within a quarter mile of an incident. We will include information as to significant arrests, community meetings, missing persons, and any other idea that we can think of that would benefit the community. A citizen may become a subscriber by logging on to www.nixle.com and follow the sign up instructions. This is a free program, however, costs may be incurred by their cell phone company depending on how they set up their contract with the phone provider (e.g. Pay per text message, etc...). I would encourage EVERYONE to sign up asap. Please alert as many residents as possible. I am excited about this new program and can't wait to see how it works out. Thank you!"

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:45 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Confronting crime, Mapping crime, Neighborhoods
        

April 10, 2009

Citizen scores victory over police rec centers

Consider it a victory for the little person.

Ever since Baltimore's police commissioner and recreation and parks director announced that the Police Athletic League centers would close, with most of them taken over by the rec department, it had sounded like a done deal.

There was a news conference and officials talked about how this was good for the city, a way of consolidating centers under one department and putting more cops on the street. The news took residents by surprise.

Robert Hunt, the head of the Rosemont Improvement Association, found out his center was on the chopping block when he saw television cameras outside. Even at a forum at Rosemont Thursday night, residents said  they were not properly informed. Hunt called me just a few hours before the hearing to tell me about it -- the city gave me a schedule of 17 hearings but didn't give him one. City Councilwoman Agnes Welch said she too learned of the closures from the media.

Now, many people felt Thursday's forum was a waste of time, that their input was only sought after the decision had been made. "If you take it out, take it out," Rosemont resident Robert Brunt said at the hearing. "But don't do it behind our backs."

Recreation officials said they informed the public as quickly as they could but on Thursday night in the gym at the Rosemont PAL, Rec and Parks director Wanda S. Durden backpedaled. In her opening remarks to a hostile crowd, she nodded to Leticia Fitts, who helps run a nonprofit that is parterning with a PAL Center on Pennsylvania Avenue, Robert C. Marshal, and is fighting city bureaucracy. She is monitoring the hearings.

"This is not a done deal," Durden emphasized, noting Fitts' victorious smile.

Is the very point Fitts has been trying to make. She's flooded city officials with e-mails demanding they announce scheduled votes and stop talking as if these cuts due to budget constraints are in fact set in stone. She is distributing a pamphlet explaining the city's budget process noting exactly where we are in, and on her chart we are no where near the end. She's titled her presentation, "It's not a 'Done Deal.'"

At least on this point it appears she has beaten City Hall. Whether this means she can save PAL is another matter. Rec and Parks is holding a series of hearings this month and next -- one at each PAL Center -- and if they go as the last three have, and resemble the e-mails I'm getting -- the city will have a mound of testimony supporting PAL and decrying the cuts.

But the City Council is not voting on PAL in June. Lawmakers are voting on the entire budget, and whether opposition to this one issue will be enough to hold up the budget remains to be seen. But at least the discussion is where it should be -- with the residents. And their words can still mean something. Here is a complete schedule of hearings on PAL centers:

Continue reading "Citizen scores victory over police rec centers" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:01 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

April 9, 2009

Padlock order angers club owner

The owner of Club 410 is hopping mad that the city's police department has padlocked their Northeast Baltimore establishment, citing shootings and other crime. Police are taking a strong stance against businesses that they say tolerate crime. But Tomeka Harris, the operator and manager of Club 410, feels they countered every argument at a public hearing last month.

The padlock went on yesterday at 5 p.m.

Harris told the Baltimore Sun's police reporter, Justin Fenton, that several incidents cited by police happened outside or even blocks away, and presented evidence that the perpetrators and suspects had likely come from elsewhere. As for a fight that occurred inside the club, she said club security handled it and that extra safety measures were implemented to ensure it wouldn't happen again. The deputy major of the Northeastern District, Darryl DeSousa, testified that the club was cooperating with police and that conditions had improved.
 
But DeSousa's superior, Maj. Delmar Dickson, said things were only better because police were directing disproportionate resources to the area. On Tuesday, a hearing examiner ruled for the police department, and the club was padlocked at 5 p.m. yesterday.
 
"We addressed every situation," said Harris, of Havre de Grace. "We don't condone violence. It just shows that the cops can do whatever they want."
 
Harris claims that her club was under no pressure until a shooting occurred outside. Since then, she said, a detective has been harassing employees and patrons, seeking information. She claims that the detective told her that he would have her shut down if she did not provide a name of the shooter. Not long after, the department initiated the padlock proceedings.
 
"I told them over and over, the victim was not a patron of my business. I have no information."

Police did not counter this claim at the hearing but have taken what a department spokesman says is a "zero-tolerance" position on violence. Police say the club serves as a catalyst for violence and cited several shootings nearby as evidence. Authorities are trying to get clubs and other businesses to take more responsibility fighting violence.

Harris said she wants to fight the police's padlock powers, but is not in a financial position to do so. "I've been draining capital, just trying to survive," Harris said. "But I'm gonna fight, because it's wrong."

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:27 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

April 8, 2009

Crime and community -- the details matter

My in-box is still filling up fast with complaints and complements over coverage of two shootings in Fells Point over the weekend. Several people are still complaining that the fatal shooting of a woman Sunday afternoon didn't occur in Upper Fells Point and my column today arguing one or two blocks doesn't make much of a difference in terms of safety.

First off, my intent was not to say that accuracy doesn't matter and if I'm one or two blocks off in naming a correct neighborhood for a crime that I don't care. I do care, and it is necessary to be accurate. One reader who has complained several times sent me a map, with an x on it, clearly showing the shooting right where police said it occurred -- on Gough Street just before Broadway -- in Upper Fells Point:

I'll upload the relevant part of the map here, since accuracy IS important, and somehow we can't seem to agree on how to read the map. The shooting, according to this "Live Baltimore" map, occurred in a thumb of Fells Point (not Upper Fells) ... and of course even this is a technicality, since it was Perkins Homes-involved. See the green "X" on the map I've created at this link:http://www.beaumonde.net/images/shootinglocation.jpg

So now it's the "thumb" of Fells Point but not really Fells Point, or Upper Fells Point?

Christian Dunn, who works for a residential brokerage on South Broadway, wrote: The details do matter in this story... If this was drug related or street justice it does matter. The headline was of "shock and awe" value. Judging by the comments the vast majority of people paid attention to the headline and associated it with the touristy section of Fells Point. Correct me if I am wrong but this sounds a lot more like a targeting and turf thing. The driver was probably not the intended target.  But somebody was after someone in that car."

I understand the need to keep crime out of neigbhorhoods and yes this unfortunate shooting probably did, as police say, stem from some dispute or incident in neighborhing Perkins Homes, a public housing complex. But as I noted in my column, the fact that the shooting may be 'turf' thing or that the victim may not have been the intended target or even that the dispute may have began in public housing, does that somehow make the area safer?

Remember, on Saturday someone fired up to 12 bullets on Lancaster Street, in the touristy section of Fells Point, and police say the men responsible came from West Baltimore. Do the residents who woke up with bullets in their walls sigh in relief that the thugs weren't their neighbors?

Dunn continued: "The reason why this matters is something you may not completely understand.  As you can tell some communities care a great deal about what happens, Fells Point especially and has a long history doing so. This area has new and old residents that care greatly about their community. It also has negative pressures from the north and Perkins homes (local government & press historically), exactly what this article describes.

"In general, you will find that people in the area know what's going on, keep an eye out and do not tolerate crime within their borders. By the little information provided it is clear that this is not an Upper Fells Point crime. What people are taking offense to is the Headline, because Fells Point is a good and safe place to live.

"These were not Upper Fells Point residents, tourists etc... They are life long beneficiaries of taxpayer dollars in the area... The Upper Fells Point residents are taxed highly and the other tragedy of this story that isn't being covered showing a lack of empathy. You probably know that 15 shots aren't fired at a car without provocation (street, thug justice), you know this if you are crime reporter.  Perhaps you have not visited Upper Fells in a while or know how active the 6-8 nearby associations are working to improve things to invite new residents in, expand the tax base, create jobs, start new businesses, live more sustain ably, less divisive, socially and community oriented. This is all about a headline."

Do we ignore this shooting, or is it that the shooting doesn't matter, because it's "not a Fells Point crime." It's a city crime and we should all care. One reader did jump to my defense:

Continue reading "Crime and community -- the details matter" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 12:05 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

April 7, 2009

Shootings in Fells Point, or not?

Today's column on crime in Fells Point and whether the boundaries make a difference got several responses, mostly from people who understand what truly matters is the shooting and the victim:

I just wanted to drop you a quick note to express my support for your most recent column. The fact that the concern stems from whether or not the shooting occurred in Fells Point sickens me. Not only does it demonstrate abject disregard for human life, specifically a life which appears to have belonged to a loving mother and honest citizen, but it also exposes one of the nastiest by-products of gentrification: class-based racism. Invisibile lines which carve out distinct social stratas make it possible that Ms. Wright could be murdered "just a few feet" outside of the Fells Point limit.

I am appalled.
 
I accept that Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods. I am a citizen of one of them, and a born-and-bred child of another. But lord knows that we can be something more. We can be one city. I know that in my heart. But it can't happen until we stop promoting these racist attitudes through inequitable, government-sponsored gentrification and redevelopment.
 
Thank you for this column, and the many others you produce. They mean something to me.
 
Very respectfully,
Dennis Robinson
J.D./M.B.A. Candidate, 2010
University of Maryland

Thank you for writing what you did today!!! I have live in Fells Point ... or fells Prospect ... or whatever the "name of the day" is - and have been here for about 12 years. It is appalling that people are responding to you about what part of the city she was actually killed in rather than responding to how she died.  Unfortunately it represents the classism and racism that is pervasive in this city. I am just as concerned as the next person - I have a young son in school a block from where Ms. Wright was shot - but to focus on where it happened (and to whom) rather than the fact that it DID happen at all is alrming to say the least.  Thank you again. Lauri

Dear Mr. Herman,

I totally agree with the point of your article today about the shooting of an innocent lady driving down Broadway in Fells Point.

I was riding my bicycle that very afternoon across that very intersection just about an hour before the shooting happened.  The irony is that I was riding back from a truly "bad" neighborhood over on Pulaski and Pratt streets in West Baltimore. I was helping a friend pack and move her apartment.  I was a bit concerned to be bicycling through her rather seedy neighborhood, but she needed my help.

I bicycle through the Perkins Homes neighborhood on Gough St. every morning and every evening on my commute to and from work. I think about all the crimes I read about there (the discovery of that poor young girl who ran away from Alexandria, VA behind a dumpster, for instance), and I search the faces of the people I see on the streets there, wondering if any of them are murderers.  But to be honest, they all seem just like family and friends, living their lives. In fact, I see a lot more human interaction (of the positive kind) on those streets than I do on my own street (I live on "Washington Hill" at S. Ann and Lombard streets.)

So your point is right on the money. No matter on whose street someone is being shot, it is everybody's problem. If President Obama can go to Turkey and proclaim, "We are not at war with Islam," then surely Baltimoreans can understand that everyone who lives here is part of the same community, no matter how hard we try not to recognize that we are all neighbors.

Sincerely,

Joanne Stato
"Fells Point"

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:07 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

Crime only on the map

The Los Angeles Times published a great story on Sunday on errors on crime maps, which are proliferating not only there but throughout the country and in Baltimore. Police agencies have complained about various maps, such as CrimeReports.com, which has marked wrong spots for crime in and around Baltimore.

We've had our own problems at the Baltimore Sun. We get calls about our homicide map showing murders in impossible locations, and even in different countries, and attempts to put up a map for Baltimore County crime has been thwarted because of bad locations. Every department gives us crime locations differently, and the computer has trouble matching them up with actual spots on the map. Earlier, a mistake put an inordinate number of plane crashes (zero would've been closer to the truth) in Essex.

The maps are fun and popular -- the Baltimore Sun has one showing homicides in the city and crime in Anne Arundel County -- but as with anything you have to be careful. The LA Times story is interesting -- the Police Department's map put too much crime in front of the newspaper building and its own headquarters.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:02 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

Fells Point residents say police are downplaying gunfire

At first, even the cops thought a man had been shot in the head on Lancaster Street in the heart of Fells Point, on a narrow street lined with rowhouses. Then came the clarification -- shots were fired but no one was hit -- a man twisted his ankle, fell and hit his head on the pavement. But now residents are worried that the police are downplaying the incident.

First, police had said it occurred about 11 p.m. on Friday, but in fact it happened a few hours later, 1:50 a.m. on Saturday, just shy of closing times for the bars. Two groups of men were arguing after leaving nearby Moby's bar. Police officers told them to quiet down and moments later gunshots erupted. One man fell down bleeding.

That's all police would say about the shooting -- a woman was shot and killed on Sunday afternoon in Upper Fells Point, an unrelated attack, but the back-to-back shootings have enraged a neighbhorhood where residents are more used to battling tourists for parking spaces than gunmen.

Residents of Lancaster Street have bombarded my blog with vivid accounts of this shooting, which police don't classify as a shooting at all, but rather a discharging, or an aggravated assault. The major of the Southeastern District, Roger Bergeron, did post several items about the shootings on Southeast District's Community Relations Council blog, but they didn't go into a lot of detail. That has sparked accusations of a coverup.

Residents describe more than a gunshot fired into the air in anger, but an attack that makes you wonder how no one was actually hit:

The most easterly bullet hole circled with white-out is in the west lower stoop of 1604. This was found on Saturday morning at around 10am. The next bullet, going west is in the gray wood basement covering. The next one went throught the upper right corner of the door of 1602 and into the living room wall of that resident. Take the tour for the other bullets.

I'd like to clarify a few points about the early Saturday shooting in Fells Point.
The 1600 block of Lancaster St. has no bars. It is a residential side street with virtually no crime. At 1:50 am Saturday morning my neighbors and I were awoken to the sound of 10 rapid gun shots. The police conducted their investigation until 3:30. The next day we found eight bullets had pierced the houses on the north side of the street. One couple has a baby.  A bullet had gone through their door and was lodged in their hall wall. With the large amount of foot traffic on Lancaster St. on the weekends it is a miracle no one was killed. Minimizing the seriousness of the crime because the shooter missed his intended target only delays any real action by the city to protect one of it's last great neighborhoods (and tax bases). We need real resources and we need them now.

I have no idea why the Friday night incident on Lancaster Street should be downplayed as "not a shooting."  Someone was shooting a gun wildly while running down the street, endangering residents and visitors. That the shooter missed his intended target (and hit doors and a vehicle) doesn't make me feel much better about walking through the neighborhood late at night.

I talked with Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi this morning and he confirmed that 8 to 12 shots were fired but that no one was arrested. He also said Bergeron has redeployed officers to address concerns from both shootings. Here are two of Bergeron's blog postings:

Continue reading "Fells Point residents say police are downplaying gunfire" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:34 AM | | Comments (1)
        

April 6, 2009

The shooting is where?

I knew as soon I came to work this morning and saw there had been a shooting on Sunday in Fells Point that somebody would contest the location. Sure enough, I got this e-mail Monday afternoon:

Peter, if this was west of Broadway, as the story indicates, the shooting was not in Upper Fells Point, which begins EAST of Broadway. The neighborhood was either Fells Point proper (if this was in the 1600 block of Gough, most likely) or Perkins Homes if in the 1500 or 1400 block.

I thought some earlier blogs by not only myself but the Baltimore Sun's copy desk chief, John McIntyre, author of You Don't Say, written after a reader took Elizabeth Large of Dining@Large to task over putting a restaurant in the wrong neighborhood, would be the end of this discussion.

But sensitivities are hard to suppress.

First off, I want to say that does it really matter if someone gets killed in Fells Point or Upper Fells Point or in neighboring Perkins Homes? Are you really that much safer? It's not like there are fences around our communities. If you live on Broadway and Gough in Upper Fells Point and someone gets shot on Gough Street in Perkins Homes, you are at best two blocks away! That's too close in my book. But I also understand that a shooting at Gough and Broadway in Upper Fells Point seems a world away from a shooting at Lancaster Street in lower Fells Point, which is where the tourists go.

But we at this newspaper need to be correct. And both the map the reader provided and the city neighborhood map we use in the newsroom show that Broadway at Gough Street is not the boundary separating Upper Fells Point from Perkins Homes (public housing). It's actually a block further to the west, Bethel Street, and that puts Sunday's shooting on Gough Street near Broadway in Upper Fells Point.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 4:20 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

April 2, 2009

Cops play soccer for charity

The Maryland State Police are having a soccer tournament in Western Maryland this weekend to raise money for charity. Here are the details:

 

 

Indoorsoccertourn.rel Indoorsoccertourn.rel Peter Hermann
Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

Retired cop defends Baltimore police athletic league

As the Baltimore Police Athletic League prepares to end because of budget cuts and transfer centers to the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, community activists, residents and others are starting to rise up. I got this e-mail from retired Baltimore police Lt. Osborne B. McCarter:

It has been quite some time since I talked to someone from the media, but after reading your article and reflecting on my 32.5 years as a public servant with the Baltimore Police Department, connecting with the present situations that are occurring, I can only conclude that the powers to be has finally gotten their wish.

Peter, as the last Operation Lieutenant running The PAL program and in furtherance of my professional career I elected to become a commander as a Deputy Mayor, I have been either directly or indirectly involved in four youth programs that have met some form of demised because of politics within the City of Baltimore.

First was the Boys Club, then The Explorer Program, followed by the Walbrook Academy, now the P.A.L.  Each program fostered a partnership between cops and kids, it was an investment being made in our youth and the feature of our city. I challenge anyone who has been involved with any of the youth programs to state different.

For example, let's look at the Northeast District. But first let look back to the inner parts of the city where thousand of residents were displaced, like the construction of a highway to no-where, built from Pulaski Street to M L K Blvd. so that workers at SS building could get into the city faster and get out at the end of the tour of duty quickly, then there was the implosion of the High Rises all of those residents were displaced through out the city some into areas we officers used to call "Country Club Districts."

But as the displacement occurred so did the crime, crimes such as vandalism and graffiti, were all to common in areas once consider crime free, compared to some districts where a part one crime was expected at least one per day if not one per shift per sector.

The Goodnow area of the Northeast soon fell victim of the vandalism and graffiti followed by street robbers, gang and drug activities. The Goodnow PAL center which started off being a 7-Eleven closed not too long after opening, because of the crime in and around the store. Mrs Army Mock, Sgt. R. Gibbson, Officers Lorie & Creg dedications and support from the community soon turned that area around from one of blight, to being one of the premier centers in the city. Thanks to the partnership between Mrs. Mock, Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier, Officer Lorie, and Officer Creg.

But who really benefited form what when on at the center? first were the kids from the community, then the community, its citizens and the city benefited from the partnership that had been fostered between kids and cops. Well O'Malley finally got his wish. Hermann, I pray that the youth of the city become enlighten as to the over all goals of the political official who are eliminating avenues for kids to avoid at-risk behavior and that voters see that as programs are being eliminated for the youth that there are more detention facilities being build and slated to be built. One can only conclude that the youth of the city are being targeted. I am thankful for having touched thousand of lives positively in one way or another over the 32 1/2 years of service within the Police department.

In Memory to Police Officer Troy Lewis Jr. who was a true and dedicated PAL officer died March 28, 2009. 

Retired
Ob-X-50

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:50 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

Closing PAL a done deal?

Baltimore officials announced last month that budget cuts are forcing them to shutter the popular Police Athletic League centers and that the Department of Recreation and Parks would take over most of them starting July 1. The closings are part of the mayor's budget proposal that doesn't get voted on until June.

So community activists who are trying to rally support to save the centers are angry that the city is making the closing look like a done deal. Rec and Parks has announced a series of visits to the soon-to-be-theirs PAL Centers starting April 6 to assess needs. And letters from the head of Rec and Parks to residents calling or e-mailing in complaints do indeed indicate the decision has been made.

It is an uphill battle. The activists would have to convince the City Council to hold up the entire budget to save one program, and that's doubtful. And I think the city could decide to shut PAL with or without a budget. But still, the tone of the letter bothers people who believe there's still a chance to keep the PALs open. Leticia Fitts, who runs a nonprofit that is partnering with the Robert C. Marshal PAL Center on Pennsylvania Avenue, which I visited last week, sent me a letter another community resident received from the director of Recreation and Parks, Wanda S. Durden.

The name of the receiver was deleted, Fitts said to protect the person protesting, but Michele Speaks, a rec and parks spokeswoman, confirmed the letter is from Durden and is a form sent out to people who are protesting the closures. She said aout 10 people have called thus far. "We understand how painful this is," Speaks told me.

Here is the letter Durden is sending out (it references Cruspus Attucks but Speaks told me they change the name depending on the center being referred to in the complaint): 

Continue reading "Closing PAL a done deal?" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

April 1, 2009

Bodies in the harbor

Today's column about bodies in the Harbor brought bad memories -- for me and my readers.

I too have had the experience of falling in the Inner Harbor, near Fells Point while covering a fire back in the early 1990s. It was dark and I followed a firefighter onto a pier. He turned right, I walked straight, and fell more than 20 feet into the water. Firefighters saw me go down and fished me out of the murky water. I was saved from further humiliation -- my colleagues gave me an autographed life-preserver -- given that the TV cameras were on the other side of the fire.

This morning, reader Jim Astrachan, a law school teacher, wrote me his account: 

Read your "in the water" column. Live on a pier in canton. 3 yrs ago wife jumped off pier to save our dog who fell in. There was no way out. Thankfully, neighbors heard screams and came to rescue. Wrote to city and asked for ladders along waterfront. Refused with no reason stated. Just "considered, and will not" or words to that effect. Fall in harbor in winter and it's a death sentance. That's not being dramatic. Water deep and cold. Heavy clothes. No way out. Look at canton waterfront where we live. Long expanses of bulk head. No way out. Bodies go down in winter, come up in spring. Lost client this way in 01, don baker, pres of food brokerage and resident penthouse harbor view. Disapeared jan; reappeared april. As if the city maintains what lawyers call an attractive nusance. Not a good reponse from the city re ladders or even life rings. And every year, some die for no good reason.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

March 30, 2009

Demise of PAL

The end of the Baltimore Police Athletic Leagues I wrote about on Sunday may have been a forgone conclusion based on the level of funding recently -- $161,000 -- compared to $1.6 million back when the program was run as a nonprofit, but judging from comments I received this weekend, residents still think it is one of the few things that works in Baltimore. Fourteen PAL Centers are to be handed over to the Department of Recreation and Parks on July 1; two are closing and two others are being given to the city school system. Here are some responses:

My name is Stephanie McKee and I am a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art. I need your help.

I know of a captivating story that requires the attention of local Baltimore residents: In a month, the city is planning on closing an after school Police Athletic League center that is a thriving, pro-active necessity to my neighborhood. The PAL center hosts 150-200 people (kids to adults) every day, and is run by Edna Price (a retired officer) and Terry Grahm, (an active officer). The mayor and the Baltimore City Police want to close the PAL center, or put it under the care of Recreation and Parks (which charges for everything - even the after-school program that is currently free)
The PAL center's small bank account is comprised of donated money, which the Police want to use (along with officer Terry) on the streets, in the reactive police force.  Edna would be out of a job, and almost a hundred kids would go home to parent-less homes (or worse) after school.

Some local residents are organizing a petition, but I fear that It won't be enough. I have emailed Mayor Shelia Dixon about this, hoping to discuss it further.

And another form Leticia Fitts, a nonprofit that is partnering with a the William C. Marshal PAL on Pennsylvania Avenue:

UPTON COMMUNITY CALL FOR ACTION

Last week Mayor Dixon proposed budget cuts in city services which include closing recreation centers and swimming pools and reduce library hours.  The Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center , located at1201 Pennsylvania Avenue , is proposed as a one of the recreation centers to be managed by the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks.  This would conclude the current management performed by the Baltimore City Police Athletic League. 

The PAL center just recently partnered with the nonprofit organization, Noble Enrichment for Children and Youth, Inc. (NECY), to expand and broaden its services and meet the diverse need of the youth in the Central District of Baltimore City.

During the March 2009 Upton Planning Committee meeting we met and heard the mission of the NECY organization.  Additionally, UPC recognized the continued efforts from Officer Charles Lee and his assistant CSO Mary Douglas.

The Upton neighborhood organizations are encouraged to weigh the pros and cons and share your thoughts on this matter with our city councilman, William Cole no later than Tuesday, March 31st…if you have not already.  Please send your “neighborhood” input in writing and send to: William.cole@baltimorecity.gov and Anthony.jones2@baltimorecity.gov.

And a third:

Hi Peter – I was very sorry to see your article in today’s Sun that the PAL centers are changing hands and/or closing. In 2001, I was hired by the non-profit arm of PAL to do a study of the PAL Centers and found that the difference of having the police officers onsite was the key characteristic that made parents and youth feel safe about their attendance. There were also a variety of additional benefits as well, including seeing police officers in a positive light. In 2003, I worked with the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health to look further at the characteristics of each center. On each occasion, while there were recommendations for improvement of the program, the PAL center youth model was shown to be a productive and important one for youth development in some very dangerous communities. My work with Youth Crime Watch of America has also shown me that the presence and participation of police officers in some of these programs is crucial.

I realize that the program lost political interest in the period following my studies, but if there is an avenue to present any of the information again, I would be glad to do it. It seems pretty clear it is too late, but if you think there is any platform in which to share this information, I’d be glad to.

Thanks for your interest in the program,

Christy Olenik

 

 

For more information on the NECY program, please visit www.necy.org or contact Ms. Leticia Fitts, program coordinator and director of academic affairs at necy_inc@yahoo.com.

 

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:32 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

March 24, 2009

Was that shooting in Baltimore?

Police are notorious for spelling errors, especially on street names. But now that city cops are increasingly going on-line with information, those errors are making their way into the public domain.

Monday night, Baltimore police twittered a shooting in the "500 block of N. Elwood Ave." Of course, there is no such address in the city (one extra 'l' would've given the posting accuracy), which my counterpart crime blogger didn't hesitate to point out:

Tweets our Facebook friend the BPD: "SHOOTING: Police investigating @ 500 block of N ELWOOD AVE." Google maps says there's no such street in the city, though there's an Elwood Ave in Easton, making us wonder if ...

there are still unexplored, primordial and unGooglized parts of the city

the BPD is trying to fake out sloppy reporters

the BPD is getting Easton radio transmissions

an officer said some other street with a Baltimore accent to a NY PR firm that's handling the BPD's "social networking services."

The shooting occurred in the 500 block of N. Ellwood Ave., in the city's Ellwood Park/Monument neighborhood. For more information, see today's story in The Sun.

 

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:15 AM | | Comments (1)
        

March 23, 2009

A Baltimore crime reporter's lament

Baltimore Sun police reporter Justin Fenton tried but failed to gather more information on a city killing. Here's why as part of a guest blog, in his own words:

Crime reporters are often asked why every death in the city isn't probed and explored in greater detail than the few lines most receive in the paper. There are a variety of reasons, from unreliable information to a newspaper's resources on any given day, and my experience today is one example.

Martie Williams, 20, was shot Saturday night while waiting to play video games at a "hangout house" in Westport. He fits the basic description of the majority of the city's homicide victims: a male, between ages 18 and 25, African-American, with pending drug charges and prior armed robbery charges that were dropped. He was awaiting a May trial on seven counts of drug dealing. He was the 47th victim of a homicide this year, and No. 48 would be found two miles away just a few hours later on Sunday morning.

But the circumstances of Williams' death - playing video games - intrigued me, and someone's death is not always the result of their criminal history or activity. So I decided to hit the street to find out more.

Active court records list Williams' address in the 2400 block of Dumfries Court, in a public housing complex and just a block away from where the fatal shooting took place. That was my first stop. After knocking on the door, a woman stuck her head out of a second floor window and said I had the wrong address. She didn't know anyone by that name and said her family had moved in within the past few months.

Strike one. But there was still the crime scene to visit, in the 2600 block of Maisel St. Two police officers were already there, going door to door to hand out fliers about "Operation Crime Watch." (The outdated fliers, by the way, note "Mayor Martin O'Malley's determination to ... allow citizens to take action and provide the highest level of personal protection"). I wasn't sure which house exactly was the crime scene, so I stopped to make a few calls. By the time I determined the house number, the officers were gone.

The house is down the street from a youth center and across the street from Westport Elementary School. Compared to some of the other houses on the street, it looked welcoming, with children's toys stacked in the front yard. There was also a front door lying in the grass, and a new front door had been attached.

It was wide open.

"Hello?" I said after stepping just inside the metal gate that enclosed the front yard. No response. I stepped up to the porch and called again, then knocked on the door. That's when I saw the blood spatter against the wall in front of me. The front room, decorated with numerous framed photos, had a TV propped up on a tray, and to the right on the wall was apparent blood spatter. Police said Williams had been shot as he waited to play video games, so the blood made sense.

I called again, knocking and knocking. As I turned to leave, an older man down the street wearing a tool belt noticed me and became enraged.

"Hey!" he boomed. "What the [expletive] are you doing inside my house!"

This was a simple misunderstanding, I thought. I've covered a couple hundred murders and sometimes these things didn't always start off well.

"I wasn't inside the house, sir," I offered. "I'm with the Baltimore Sun, and I'm here to do a story on the young man who was killed." The man was incredulous. He refused to believe that I had not been inside his house. He screamed repeatedly, threatening me and reaching several times for a hammer in his tool belt. A few times he also seemed to be reaching into his waistband. I don't know whether he had a gun, but that's certainly where many who carry weapons will store them. I've covered enough homicides to know that a bullet to the head can result from much less than what I was going through with him at the moment. Just last week, a woman was arrested in connection with shooting and killing another woman, and injuring two others, who accidentally bumped into her on a dance floor. Maybe Williams' death, too, was related to something seemingly trivial, like butting in line to play the video game.

"You have no idea the pain I have," the man said.

"That's why I'm here, sir."

"Gimme two dollars," he said, lightening up for a moment. "Gimme whatever you got." But I wasn't going to give him any money. I pull out my wallet, and the wallet might be gone, I figured.

He came toward me, and people on the street started to take notice. A window at the elementary school opened up, and children chanted. As I walked away, my hands outstretched in a "surrender" pose, he followed, still hollering threats and saying he should hurt me. No degree of explanation that I didn't go into his house changed his mind.

And then I realized I've walked past my car. Oops.

I made a step towards it, offering that I need to get back that way in order to comply with his demands and leave. No, that's not happening, he said. Don't let me see you around here again. Perhaps that was for the best, as I'm pretty sure pointing out my car was a good way to either get my window smashed or get full-out carjacked. Maybe he was all talk, but I wasn't going to take the risk.

So I did something I haven't done yet in my experience as a police reporter: I called the police for help. I dialed 911. I needed someone to just come to the area and help me get back to my car, I said. I don't want any trouble, but I needed to get the heck out of there. Down the street I could see the man, still angry, and now standing with some associates.

It took about 10 minutes for a patrol car to respond, and of course it felt a lot longer. The two-man car pulled up, and they let me hop into the backseat and drove me the 200 yards to my car.

"You're a reporter for the Sun?" said the officer behind the wheel, a huge grin on his face. He was highly entertained by this. I don't blame him - most police think the media are out to get them and second-guessing everything they do, and here I was, begging for help. Not so easy, huh? Of course, I don't carry a gun or wear a vest, either, but that's neither here nor there. I climbed into my car and drove away, passing the man with the hammer as school let out at Westport Elementary.

Obviously, I was a tad shaken by this series of events. But I think more importantly, as my job as a crime reporter goes, perhaps this offers a bit more insight into why not every victim gets a full writeup. For every family that wants to share their pain or see the victim given a spotlight in the newspaper, there's the family that begs us not to write anything out of fear for its safety, or those so overcome by emotions that the mere presence of a reporter is enough to send them over the edge.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 5:08 PM | | Comments (16)
        

March 19, 2009

Baltimore Police PAL cuts

Back in 1996, I met Darryl Parker, a 13-year-old who had a choice to make: “He can pocket $200 a week selling cocaine for his cousin or play soccer with Baltimore police officers.”

Then, he chose soccer. I have no idea what happened to Darryl, who I talked with a year after the first Police Athletic League opened as part of a sweeping take-over of failing recreation centers by the city’s police department. Now, 13 years later, the experiment is over. The city announced with great fanfare yesterday, as part of sweeping budget cuts, that 14 of 18 PAL centers still left (there used to 27) will be turned over to the Department of Recreation and Parks, two will go to the school system and two will close (more details are in my column today).

PAL centers were never a very popular idea with rank and file police. Former Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier hailed it as his signature program and at one point had assigned 87 officers to the centers, solicited grants and donations from city CEOs and from the White House and won accolades across the county for his innovative ideas (At left, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and Wanda K. Durden, director of the city's Recreation and Parks Department, announce end of the PAL program. The photo was taken by Baltimore Sun photographer Chiaki Kawajiri).

Back home, homicides continued unabated, district commanders had a hard time filling police cars and recreation center workers loudly complained they were victims of an armed coup. Who were cops to say they can mentor kids better than the people schooled to do so?

But their cries went unheard and, at the time, rightly so. The centers they ran were in dismal shape. Many closed when school closed, which defeated the whole purpose, they were dirty and dingy and overrun by crime and drug dealers. They were simply out of control, and the city’s top cop, who described himself as a “social worker with a gun,” felt that a paramilitary-run recreation league — registered as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization — was the only way to go. Millions of dollars poured into PAL centers as the city slashed the budget for rec and parks.

Frazier described PAL centers as building “social capital” with youngsters such as Darryl, banking good-will at 13 that he hoped would be repaid by Darryl staying out of trouble when he reached 17. “Every time a cop helps a kid in a computer lab, I put $1 in social capital in the bank account,” Frazier told me back then. “That’s what PAL is. The theme of the Police Department is that we are part of the social fabric of the city.”

The former commissioner spent a lot of his time scouring the city for weights and exercise equipment, and in his first year he raised $217,000 in private funds. He bought television sets and popcorn machines and cops knew that a way to advance was to joint he PAL program. He sponsored a midnight basketball program that attracted 540 kids and put 70 new computers in the Canton Middle School.

His cops spoke frankly of the city’s problems. Maj. Frank Malcavage headed the PAL program in 1996 he told me that he “found that a lot of the recreation centers were closing early because people were afraid to open them. Well, police officers are not afraid to open them.”
At the time, the spokeswoman for the city’s recreation department, dismissed any notion that her agency was engaged in a “turf war” with the police. It was, she said then, a simple misunderstanding common when two partners combine efforts.

Now, we’re going back to the way it was:

Continue reading "Baltimore Police PAL cuts" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 9:02 AM | | Comments (0)
        

March 16, 2009

Baltimore County police league gets donation

This afternoon, St. John Properties Inc. and the Middle River Business Center is presenting a $10,000 check to the Baltimore County Police Athletic League. The sizable donation is from the proceeds of last year's Baltimore Crossroads@95 5K Cross County Challenge Race. This year's race is scheduled for Oct. 31.

Today's ceremony is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Woodmoor PAL Center at 7111 Croydon Road. Several officials, including the Baltimore County police chief and Nancy S. Grasmick, the Maryland state superintendent of schools, are scheduled to attend.

For more details:

Continue reading "Baltimore County police league gets donation" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 10:23 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

Baltimore mock murder photos

The conclusion of a six-week mock murder investigation designed to teach Baltimore teens the inner-workings of a criminal case came with a trial on Thursday inside a real city courtroom. Circuit Judge Althea M. Handy presided, helping the teens who played the roles of cops, witnesses, jurors and lawyers.

It was more than a simple exercise -- it taught the kids how to think on their feet, asking probing questions and see there is more to an investigation than a body and cops. For more detail, here is my column that ran Sunday. Here are some more photos from Sun photographer Elizabeth Malby from the Thursday night court session:

In the first photo, Shandria Robinson (left) and Mia Griffin, both playing the role of defense attorneys, get advice from public defender Thomas Kane. In the middle, Assistant State's Attorney Noelle Winder (center) advises Mia Griffin. In the foreground, Nicole Belle plays the role of defendant:

 

Continue reading "Baltimore mock murder photos" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:51 AM | | Comments (0)
        

March 12, 2009

Neighborhoods and crime

We have an identity crisis in Baltimore.

My good colleague over at Dining@Large found that out this week when a reader complained she had located Brasserie Tatin in Homewood instead of Tuscany-Canterbury. They're miffed that a restaurant got moved from one neighborhood to another? Try that with crime!

Nobody wants crime in their neighborhood and nobody gets more complaints about neighborhood boundaries than the police reporter. My first taste of this came a number of years ago when an unfortunate man met his demise on the most unfortunate of streets -- Southway, which according to the official city map is the boundary between Oakenshawe to the south and Guilford to the north.

I had put the body in Guilford but I confess I didn't check to see on which side of the yellow line the body fell. Callers insisted it was on the south side of the street, putting the murder firmly in Oakenshawe. To this day I fail to see how anyone in Guilford, especially those whose manicured lawns greet Southway, are any safer with the body a few feet and a neighborhood name away. But we ran a correction anyway.

This theme repeats itself almost every week, sometimes more. I've discovered living in Baltimore that these lines are a state of mind. When I returned from an overseas reporting stint and started looking for a house in the city in 2005, I discovered that Highlandtown had been replaced, by the realators anyway, with something called Upper Canton.

I settled on a rowhouse on East Fort Avenue, only to have Jenna Bush become a neighbor. Only she wasn't really a neighbor. All the press put her in Federal Hill, even though she lived well south of the line; had there been a homicide instead of a president's daughter there, the crime would've been South Baltimore.

Here's how confusing it can be: my neighbors call where we live South Baltimore, though the city map calls it smack dab in the middle of Riverside. But the Riverside Neighborhood Association starts on the south side (odd numbered houses) on Fort Avenue. Being on the even side of the street, I'm in the Federal Hill South Community Association. But tell that to anybody on Montgomery Street or further south on William Street and Battery Avenue (where the house prices rise even as the houses get smaller) and you'll get a scornful look, as if we were trying to appropriate their good name and historic trademark. My house is often confused as being in Locust Point, even though I'm a mile west of the marker.

Topping it all off, there's a sign on a building on South Hanover Street, a mile from Federal Hill, that says, "Welcome to the heart of Federal Hill."

The comments about the restaurant has sparked a vibrant debate over at another blog, John E. McIntyre's You Don't Say, where the subject, naturally, returned to crime.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 11:00 AM | | Comments (0)
        

February 26, 2009

Break-ins, and an arrest, in Baltimore's Belair-Edison

I really do hate to tell people, "I told you so," but Northeast Baltimore resident John G. Egger was nice enough to volunteer to be flogged. Back in October, he complained about columns I wrote about crime in Belair-Edison.

He wrote that my articles painted a picture "of a neighborhood quickly slipping away and does not highlight very much promise of hope." His remarks were longer than that, and thoughtful, and I posted them and moved on.

So I was surprised when Mr. Egger called me a few weeks ago. Two months after he wrote me, his house was broken into. Then, at the end of January, his house was broken into again. There have been nine burglaries in Belair-Edison in six weeks, before police arrested a suspect earlier this month who might be responsible for some if not all of the break-ins.

Thankfully, Mr. Egger has a sense of humor, in that he didn't blame me. He told me that when he read my column about crime, "It didn't seem like that to me. Sure enough, a couple months later, my house got broken into."

Burglaries are a persistent problem in Baltimore, and are on the rise this year, even as other violence crime holds pace or even falls. Maybe it's a sign of the economic times, or merely new opportunities. And typically, not just one house gets hit, but several in a cluster.

The first time Mr. Egger's house got broken into was Dec. 18. He was at work and got notified by his alarm company. He also admits he was partly at fault -- over Thanksgiving, he opened his kitchen window to air out the room while the turkey roasted, and he forgot to lock it. The intruder only had to slide the window up and crawl into the kitchen. There he ripped the alarm keypad off the wall and threw it to the floor. For some reason, he only stole a bread knife, which he used to cut an outdoor television cable he apparently mistook for the alarm wire. Egger doesn't use cable -- he has satellite -- so it took him a while to notice the damage.

A few weeks later, his girlfriend was home during the day and saw a man with no teeth peering in the window at her. She shouted and he shouted back, "Sorry, wrong house" and ran away.

On Jan. 27, Egger believes the same burglar returned. This time, his kitchen window was locked and the intruder broke it to get inside. Egger told me the intruder had 16 minutes from the time the alarm went off until he and police arrived at the house. In that time, the intruder had "gone through every drawer in my house," stolen numerous items and escaped.

Among the missing items, according to the police report: a Gateway laptop computer worth $2,000; an Olympus camera worth $450, a safe worth $80; keys to a 2000 Toyota Tundra, the safe and the grill; three necklaces; a diamond necklace; four pars of earrings; a gold bracelet; a silver Ann Klein watch; and a light blue pillow case with bleach stains used to haul away the loot. The TV set was moved but not taken.

Earlier, residents had reported seeing a man with a shovel walking around the neighborhood looking for walks to clear of freshly fallen snow. They now think the man was looking for empty houses. Police noted footprints around Egger's house and his neighbor's and a woman told police she saw a man in back of Egger's house with a bag and a shovel.

Police held community meetings to discuss safety tips and search for witnesses. Egger vowed to put up a camera in his backyard to catch the suspect. He said the man knocked his alarm key off the wall in both break-ins. His window was valued at $350.

Police Agent Donny Moses, a department spokesman, noted the problem in the Belair-Edison area and said that "most crimes like this are crimes of opportunity. A lot of times the suspect finds, 'Oh, that was easy,' and unfortunately they do return to the scene of the crime."

Moses also said that police did make an arrest after a woman on Chesterfield Avenue, who had attended one of the community meetings, confronted a burglar in his home. The spokesman said the man, identified as Maurice Kelvin Washington, 45, had a red and a blue screwdriver in his pants pocket and that officers found items taken in various burglaries in his home and at pawn shops.

Washington lives a block of Egger on Dudley Avenue. Details on his arrest are below:

 

Continue reading "Break-ins, and an arrest, in Baltimore's Belair-Edison" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:09 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Confronting crime, Neighborhoods
        

February 25, 2009

Forging parking permits

Parking is so tight in South Baltimore's Otterbein neighborhood that residents had a gentleman's agreement with the parking police -- they'd be allowed to double-park without getting a ticket until a neighbor left a spot.

Sometime in the past several months, those unwritten rules disappeared. And now, the community's representative on parking matters, architect Robert R. Gisriel, says applications for visitor's permits has skyrocketed.

So board members took particular notice when they saw and ad posted on Craigslist from a guy offering to sell two visitor permits and letting the buyer make an offer: "You can park anywhere between 395-Conway-Light-Henrietta area. Pass is good for 1 year, expires 1-31-10. 2 block walk to TONS office buildings, 1 block to the harbor. Most parking places downtown are $100 plus a month, so this is worth ovr $1200. Email me your offer."

The Otterbein resident quickly got on the phone to another Otterbein resident, City Councilman William H. Cole IV, who quickly got on the phone to the cops in the Southern District. Two detectives contacted the man, arranged a deal outside the ESPN Zone at the Inner Harbor and made a bust. Nicholas Foster, 26, who lives on West Lee Street in Otterbein, was charged with one count of counterfeiting a city permit.

I wasn't able to reach Foster, but details of the charges he faces are below.

Parking rules vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, and Otterbein has among the city's most restrictive. Unlike neighboring Federal Hill and South Baltimore, where visitors can park up to two hours in residential neighborhhoods, drivers to Otterbein can't park there at all without a permit. Part of the reason is that the community is all residential; and it's prime location near the stadiums, the convention center, the Inner Harbor and Federal Hill makes it a magnet for people seeking free parking near the city's main attractions.

The commuity already has more housing units -- condos, appartments and town houses -- than parking spaces, and already limits residents on how many permits they can obtain. For example, a house with no off-street parking can get two parking permits, each costing $20; a house with two cars and one parking pad can only get one permit. Residents also are allowed two visitor permits -- also each costing $20 -- the kind that the suspect allegedly forged.

If everyone who is eligible actually applied for a parking permit and two visitor passes, "It would just blow us out of the water," Gisriel told me, noting that just recently he saw a car from Carroll County pull up and the occupants walk toward the Inner Harbor. He informed them they risked a ticket, and they told him they'd preper to pay than a parking garage. "They just didn't care."

Another problem is between homeowners and renters. Many of the renters are university students or young professionals, who Gisriel said "still have their cars registered to mommy and daddy" meaning they aren't eligible for a residential parking permit. But they are eligible for a visitor permit, which they place on their cars to permanently leave on the street.

It's illegal to not only forge a parking permit, but also to sell a real one, says Cole, who stated the obvious when asked about the problem: "Everybody is looking for a cheaper place to park downtown." He said believe the problem of forging the permits is more widespread than officials want people to believe.

Peter Little the executive director of the Parking Authority, said his agency takes forgery "very seriously" and said he's heard of people offering up to $500 for a parking permit.

The charging documents are below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading "Forging parking permits" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:06 AM | | Comments (0)
        

February 20, 2009

Baltimore Police Blotter turns 30


 

 

 

It was February 1979, and an editor for the Baltimore News-American had an idea from Florida. He suggested a police blotter, and Richard Irwin, who covered cops and had worked at the paper from 1955 to 1958 and then again starting in 1965, was assigned the task with two other reporters. They split the city; Dick's job was to hit the precincts in Baltimore County.

Dick drove to a few of the station houses, not quick trips in the sprawling county that surrounds the city, and had managed to get to just a few when he was called away to a fire at Sparrows Point. It was the last time Dick drove; from then on, the Police Blotter was done by phone.

For years thereafter, Dick manned the overnight desk of the News-American, and then, when that closed in 1986, the Evening Sun, and when that closed, he came to the Baltimore Sun. He carried the blotter with him like a tattered suitcase.

Its format and type of crime changed, but Dick never did, and his compact style remains to this day -- as popular on the Internet as it is in its shortened form in the print edition. We've changed over the years -- Dick's early blotters are full of rich detail and names. It was Roger Crawford, 22, of Arbutus, who had a gun shoved in his back as he walked out of a bathroom of a BP gas station, the very first item in the very first of Dick's thousands of blotters.

A city police officer who shot a dog that was biting a child got named too -- Thomas Stein -- as did the 2-year-old child, Wallace Cordell. Today, names of victims are typically left out because people are scared of being identified as witnesses and victims.

Cops are more circumspect now -- most calls from reporters are handled by public affairs officers, or spokesmen, even for the most routine information. Irwin has usually been exempt from such rules -- I remember once in the 1990s when the department issued a blanket rule that homicide detectives could no longer talk to the news media. One detective said a hand shot up in the room, "What about the blotter?" and of course the command staff didn't mean that.

That doesn't mean there were never problems. Paul Scardina talked to Dick hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times over the seven years he spent on a desk at the Southeastern Police District. The now retired sergeant, who spent 32 years on the force, said he cringed when he picked up the paper and discovered a long list of break-ins, thefts and burglaries under the Southeast heading and only a handful scattered among the other, more violent districts. "Commanders and shift commanders didn't want us to give too much out," Scardina told me. "I'd be told to give out one robbery when we had twenty."

Dick developed a relationship with the cops on the often quiet overnight shifts. "Not only does the blotter provide a list of serious incidents of crime, but also funny ones," Dick says, just after learning someone had broken into a house in Parkville this week and taken a hot tub. "It's amazing what people steal. They get into a house and they feel they have to steal something no matter what it is."

Dick still takes notes on a torn notebook paper and keeps them by hand. Even though he works a night shift, getting off around midnight, he still makes his blotter calls in the early hours of the morning, to the cops he's been dealing with for years. They all know the drill.

Few newspapers have blotters anymore -- the New York Post still does -- and even fewer send reporters out to station houses to compile crime. Such lists typically come from headquarters, and are usually sanitized and contain only the most serious incidents, the incidents that command cares about and thinks everyone else cares about as well.

Community and neighborhood newspapers publish blotters. The one in the Baltimore Guide is very popular among residents, and I thought it was great timing when this week the New York Times wrote a brief sketch of a reporter for the Brooklyn Paper who still walks to the 94th Precinct in Greenpoint to compile a weekly blotter. The headline: "The Dying Art of the Crime Blotter."

What is surprising to me is that while newspapers shed features once thought sacrosanct, such as stock tables, the blotter remains one of the most popular items in both print and web formats. People complain when it's not in the paper, and the words "police blotter" are among the most searched for terms on our Internet site.

A sampling of crime in the blotter pales in comparison to the comprehensive lists available on the Internet -- the Baltimore Sun  offers a complete weekly tabulation of every crime in Anne Arundel County, complete with maps, derived from data sent directly to us from the county's 911 center. A similar map of Baltimore County crime is coming soon, and we already map homicides. It's all useful information and helps people figure out what is going on near their homes. But the blotter offers just a touch more narrative.

For example, the computer list will note a burglary between Jan. 4 and Jan. 23 at 4400 Old Court Road in Baltimore County. Dick's blotter will tell you that someone stole clothes worth $220 and then "poured ketchup, hand lotion and paint onto carpets, walls and floors."

Dick's favorite blotter item, and mine, made the Jay Leno show a few years ago: "Someone entered the rear yard of a house in the 5900 block of Johnson St. on Saturday morning and removed a tomato from a tomato plant. The tomato was valued at $3, police said."

If a blotter can be poetry, this is it. These are little stories, fun and useful to read in their own right, but taken collectively over time, it's a body of work that tells us something about ourselves and our community. We scan the list to see if anything happened to our neighbors or in our neighborhood, we learn intimate details of the people living down the street, we know about a string of burglaries in the next block and make sure our doors are locked, we read the blotter and feel we're connected.

There are many web sites that compile blotters from various newspapers around the country, and I remember a book that told the story of a small town in Maine by using only items from the local newspaper blotter. The Los Angeles Times wrote about a police blotter in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, where the blotter "documents what happens when thousands of fishermen" come to port.

In a small town, the blotter, like the neighborhood gossip, tells all. In a big city, the blotter makes us feel like a small town. Yes, in the big city we have murder and blood and guts headlines splashed across the front pages, but the blotter reminds us that we also have sheds that are broken into, purses that are snatched and tomatoes stolen from tomato plants. Somehow, it makes us feel like even the small things matter. Highlights of blotters past:

 


Continue reading "Baltimore Police Blotter turns 30" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 6:06 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

October 23, 2008

Community crime walks

Here's a question from a Baltimore County resident:

"Hi, Peter--here's a question I've been pondering, and I thought you might want to consider it as something to explore in your blog.  How effective are citizen patrols?  In my position I've encountered many different philosophies, and I wonder if there is any hard evidence one way or another.


"Our neighborhood has only an email crime alert system, but nearby neighborhoods have organized COP groups, where people volunteer to patrol the neighborhood (typically for one day a month). Some have magnetic COP stickers you are supposed to slap on your car to make the COP presence more visible. One policeman who attended a neighborhood gathering said that patrolling incognito might actually be more effective. Some neighborhoods take the position that "if you live here, you are automatically part of our COP," but there are no organized patrols. They ask everyone to stay alert and report anything suspicious.


"One neighborhood that does perform patrols admitted to me that they hadn't seen much in terms of results--perhaps helping up a neighbor who had fallen, or getting newspapers off the front lawn.  My feeling is that people who volunteer to patrol make themselves feel good about "doing something," particularly when there is bad news that strikes close to home."

Continue reading "Community crime walks" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 8:32 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        

October 9, 2008

Homeland Association and crime information

The head of North Baltimore's Homeland Association wrote to me today to take issue with my column on Sunday on how his group distributes information about crime. Some residents of Homeland and others living in neighboring communities object to the association limiting its distribution list to dues-paying members.

They argue that the information should be more broadly published to help both keep people safe and catch those responsible. Amber Elburn, who refuses to join the Homeland Association, is taking information she gets from friends and reposting items on an alternative web site. That prompted Homeland to seek out attorneys regarding possible copyright violations.

I argue that crime information should be better distributed by the city to avoid each community posting separate blogs and email lists. But that would require a fundamental shift in the approach the city takes to giving out such information.

Here is the response from Homeland's president, Robert Fiore, reprinted with his permission:

 

 

Continue reading "Homeland Association and crime information" »

Posted by Peter Hermann at 3:57 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Neighborhoods
        
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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.



Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.
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