by Benn Ray
I wrote the following summary of a special meeting last night for the benefit of the Hampden Village Merchants Association as I was invited to attend as the President of that community group. Since then, I've gotten requests from a number of people asking if they can forward it and/or share it with others, so I decided to post it here, with a few additional comments, hopefully for everyone's benefit.
Last night (Friday, August 16, 2013) there was a meeting at Northern District with the police, City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and the leaders of what seemed like every community association you can think of in Northern District (and some you didn't even know existed) regarding recent crime issues in the region.
The meeting was divided up into 3 main parts:
Part 1 - the police addressing the cell phone muggings, or "Lick-n-Hits" as the perpetrators call them.
Part 2 - each community group was given a few minutes to discuss the crime in their neighborhoods to make sure the police are aware of the issues and to find out what they're doing about it.
Part 3 - to construct a way to get better communication out of the police.
And I'll add a Part 4 based on comments and ideas - suggestions/advice.
Part 1 A - Lick-n-Hits: The police have arrested 3 suspects (maybe 4) and are waiting on the warrants to come in on 2 more in relation to the AM jogger muggings. One of the suspects is an adult, the rest, including the ring leader, are minors. One of the other suspects will be charged as an adult. Ages range from 15-22 years old. They are all African-American males from other neighborhoods outside Northern District.
While we have been experiencing this crimewave since early August, neighboring districts have been experiencing it since July (from the same group, the police think -based on patterns).
The police believe the suspects access the area via 28th St. by stealing a car along the way, and then driving through the area and taking advantage of opportunities to mug as many people as possible.
It was implied that the pathway they were following leads them to Towson where there is a kiosk machine that will give you cash for cell phones (evidently Mondawmin Mall had a similar kiosk but it has since been removed). And that they later dump the vehicle, stealing a new one the next time they want to do crimes - making it nearly impossible to track them. The police said they have been sending "scanning cars" throughout the area that scan plates for stolen vehicles.
Based on their pattern, this group was was typically active weekday mornings. Given that most are minors, it's likely they will be back out on the street again. But hopefully the minor who is being charged as an adult and the adult - Demetrius Carter (DOB: 11/16/91) - will go away and that will be enough to dismantle the group. Minors can't be named because they are minors. We're hoping Lick-n-Hits as a crime model don't spread to the friends of those doing these crimes, or that the youth don't continue (as there is little to discourage them given their status as minors) after they are released and recruit new participants.
They were caught because:
A. the crime spree began when a girl stole her friend's car and this car was used in the first mugging in another neighborhood. This made it easy to trace back the connections.
B. the group had been discussing/coordinating their crimes via social media.
The suspects in custody also now seem to be talking to the police.
The police will continue to have helicopters in the air on weekday mornings until they are confident they have dismantled the crime ring. We will also see a continued increase in police presence of cruisers in the area as well.This is NOT the same group as the guys doing cell phone snatch-and-grabs out of businesses a few weeks ago along Falls Rd. and 36th St. (One of those guys, thanks to the efforts of someone at Union Skate, was arrested.)
Part 1 B - Zeb Drinkwater's Shooting - Unfortunately, this incident does not appear to be connected to the Lick-n-Hits. According to the police, Drinkwater had escorted a woman to her car around 1:45 AM. She then sat in her car, got on her cell phone and started texting or tweeting. An African-American male (6 foot 2 inches, 250 pounds) then approached her car and insisted she open the doors and give up her cell phone. Drinkwater saw this, returned to the car and distracted the guy long enough for the woman to drive off. He then tried to make it back to his house and was shot in the process. At this point, the police have no leads on the shooter. They said that while they were able to interview the woman, they've not yet been able to interview Drinkwater.
While this portion of the meeting seemed to focus more on the Lick-n-Hits, I also pointed out that the area is, and will remain, understandably freaked out about the shooting as we are a neighborhood unaccustomed to gun violence. So while it seems the police hope to calm us down with arrests with the Lick-n-Hits, we will remain on edge and upset until an arrest is made in the Drinkwater shooting.
Part 2 A - Hampden Business Break-ins - I mentioned to the police our frustration about the lack of arrests made as a result of the break-ins along Falls & 36th St. that started several months ago, with some businesses being broken into repeatedly. And that a couple of business owners believe they know who are responsible. The police pointed out that in some instances, the suspects had keys to an establishment, in one instance - a business owner had not bothered to report the break-in until a day later.
Part 2 B - Car Thefts and Break-ins - I pointed out there have been issues with cars being stolen and dumped, and cars being broken into in the area, and that we hope to see arrests made.
Part 2 C - Drug Dealing - I also brought up that blatant drug dealing has been on the increase, and I pleaded for their for help. I pointed out that Roosevelt Park has become an open air drug market, and Genny Dill (Secretary of the Hampden Community Council) had a number of very helpful and informative comments to add with regard to the Baby Stroller Cartel who spend a large portion of the day in the park and deal out of their kids' strollers - I believe there was an audible gasp from the room when we were explaining that people in Hampden deal drugs out of their kids' strollers - Genny pointed out that a clear indication is when you see a kid WAY too big for a stroller still in the stroller, it's usually because the stroller carries the stash or cash.
While my comments were intended to be about the neighborhood as a whole, including dealing on the 800 block of W. 36th St. and over on 34th St., everyone seemed to focus in on the meth clinic. I explained that the bus stop at 36th & Falls during the methadone clinic hours is a drug market as well, and we discussed a few arrests that had been made there.
Someone else brought up that I frequently find prescription pill bottles along Falls Rd. (indicating a drug market), and asked if I and others should be retaining those bottles as evidence. The police quickly told us not to do that because that puts us illegally in possession of someone else's prescription - which is a crime. My suggestion is to take a picture of the pill bottle, making sure you can see the name and the prescription on the label.
The police assured us that the issue with the park will be cleaned up.
It seemed like there was a great potential for the methadone clinic issue to derail the process (a number of folks from other neighborhoods also share our concerns, which is a relief), so I left it at that as it will be part of another, larger neighborhood conversation happening soon.
I will say to those who self-righteously like to point fingers and yell, "NIMBY!" ("Not In My Back Yard"): we've put up with this clinic (a for-profit chain of businesses) for 3 years and they have failed to be a proactive member of the community, they have failed to live up to their own list of standards they promised us they would adhere to, and that most people, me included, have not said we don't want the clinic in Hampden - we've said we don't want the clinic at the doorstep to the Avenue, next to the park, and around the corner from schools.
It's not "Not In My Back Yard" you ignorant, judgmental tools, it's NIMFY - Not In My FRONT Yard. And if that seems unreasonable to you, meet me at the clinic one morning at 8AM and I'll be glad to let the clinic illustrate to you why that's a problem.
Part 3 - Communication - we devised a notification system for the police to send out important updates and emails to community leaders who will then, in turn, share the relevant updates with their communities. We're giving it about 2 weeks to get up and running and work the kinks out.
It struck me that what we are doing, absent of reliable local media, is simply trying to establish an information stream that once would be addressed by newspapers. That really, if we had a healthy daily newspaper in Baltimore, the city would give a press conference and supply the information I'm conveying to you to via actual journalists. But with the Sun being in the state that it is, and our blogosphere being little more than a loose collection of special interest enthusiasts (this blog included), communities will have to organize to convey information. So what that means is if you, as a community member, are not a participant of a community association, and you want access to this kind of information, you need to join up right quick or be left in the dark.
Part 4 - Suggestions - So what can we do?
A. See something? Say something. We have been advised by the police that when we see someone unfamiliar in the neighborhood behaving suspiciously, to call 911 and report them. Use your judgment on this. Usually you can tell when someone is acting suspiciously. When you see that, call the police. They are currently on hyper-alert - so now is the best time to get them to respond to complaints.
B. Download a find my phone app. This can help immensely. Call the police when your phone is stolen - BEFORE you shut down your phone. If you have this app and your phone service is still on, you might still find your phone. And often, when they find the person with your phone, they have other people's phones with them, too. Also, make sure you have a lock system on to discourage thieves from accessing your data.
C. Be aware of your surroundings. Don't get so engrossed in your digital device that you are unaware of what's going on around you. Remember - you are carrying a gadget that cost you, in most cases, several hundred dollars. That gadget has resale value. An experienced phone thief can wipe your phone and resell it on the street or they can take it to Towson and drop it in a machine and get cash back for it. While you are thinking you are just walking down the street checkin' your Tweets or being disappointed in the new Jay-Z record, other people see you walking down the street with a wad of cash in your hand just ripe for the pickings.
D. JHU Incidents Reports - JHU has an Incident Report service that seems to be the envy of the city (including the BCPD). I'm still trying to find out how to get the email alerts - but you can read them here. It would be awesome to see this sort of incident notification system adopted and utilized by the Baltimore City Police.
E. Lock That Shit Down - For local businesses, keep all of your valuables out of sight and reach of customers. Make sure you get keys back from former employees before you give them a final paycheck. Make sure you have an alarm system. Make sure you change the codes to that alarm system regularly - ESPECIALLY if you have employee turnover.
For everyone, keep in mind we live in a city. Keep in mind we live in a popular neighborhood that is seen by the rest of the city as a bustling economic hub. Keep your eyes open. Take pictures when it's safe for you to do so. And if something is wrong, call 911 immediately.
F. Consider A Ban On Cell Phone Kiosks - start calling on legislators to consider a ban on cell phone kiosks. Pawn shops and used item resellers have more accountability and require more scrutiny than these boxes that give cash for phones, no questions asked. The problem is, banning them in the city isn't enough as criminals can just take a haul of devices to nearby kiosks in the county. We need to look at a statewide ban on cell phone kiosk machines. At the very least, we need to have a discussion as to whether the crimes these machines encourage outweigh the benefits of having them.
It was a 2 hour meeting on a Friday night (during Happy Hour no less!). I think this covers all the high points. There were about 40 community heads in the room. There was a discussion of setting up a quarterly meeting where the heads of all these community associations get together to discuss issues and cooperate.I hope you find this summary informative and helpful.