‘The Major Driver In The Economy Is Crime’
As Gabbard navigates his way through the residential neighborhoods in and around Gwynn Oak, two-and-a-half miles from the Etz Chaim Center, he spots some familiar faces standing on the corner: some of the local dealers, he says.
Slowing the car to a roll, he lowers his window.
“Can you afford a $150 citation?” he asks the group of hooded young African-American men, as he moves to unbuckle his seat belt. Met with no response, he adds, “Then get off this corner.” The men quickly disperse.
In his line of work, Gabbard says the act of just walking away is a sign of respect. Later in the shift, other groups of men, often gathered in front of convenience stores or on corners, disperse immediately at the sight of the patrol car simply slowing down.
“They don’t want to be hassled,” explains Gabbard.
Even in instances when the people gathered are known dealers, as on the first corner, getting out of the car or patting the men down, says the officer, would be an ineffective use of time.
Just like any business, the drug trade adapts to challenges. With a big police presence in some of the known drug-trafficking areas, dealers won’t risk carrying the supply on their bodies and facing a potential charge. Instead, Sheehan and Gabbard say, the stash is usually hidden somewhere close enough to make a sale but far enough away to hinder the ability of law enforcement to link the vials and bags to specific individuals.
“Very few [of those men] are out there just because they like the cold weather,” says Gabbard jokingly. But the dealing system makes it hard to pin the drugs to the dealers on the street. “You can’t arrest a sidewalk,” he points out. In addition to hidden stashes, the drug trade usually involves a vast network of lookouts; from paid employees to addicts paid in drugs, “lookouts are everywhere.”
Although police presence seems to be enough to make most groups disperse, the officers say it is frustrating to see the same people return to the same corner a couple of days — or sometimes even a couple of hours — after they moved on.
Recently, when the dealers seemed to be getting a bit too confident, the department dispatched a drug-sniffing patrol dog to walk with officers in one of the notoriously busy neighborhoods. In one stash alone, the canine found dozens of bags of cocaine and marijuana and multiple bottles of heroine.
While the city boasts an economy built around education and medicine, experience has painted a different picture for Gabbard.
“The major driver in the economy is crime,” he asserts, noting that, in addition to the criminals who support themselves through illegal activities, the city budgets for 3,100 officers to combat the crime. This is in addition to the lawyers and crime lab technicians, among others, who would serve no purpose in a crimeless city.