BALTIMORE - If you talk to any of the long-time residents in some East Baltimore neighborhoods, many will tell you it was different 20 years ago.
Now their streets are seemingly in a steady free fall under the weight of drugs and violence and all of it many say is pumped in through the main drag that cuts area in half.
"Of course it was a lot different when I was younger in elementary school. As I got to my teens it started to get bad," Baltimore Police Sgt. Anthony Maggio said.
Maggio remembers growing up on the very streets he now patrols as part of the department's Monument Street Initiative.
"Between Patterson Park and Kenwood Avenue, you can have 15 different kids selling 15 different things. … It's just a very weird dynamic around here," Maggio said.
It is a dynamic that's been blamed for two decades of decay. East Monument Street is the main artery that for 20 years has been funneling in drugs.
"They sell everything in this corridor. Marijuana, heroin, cocaine, mollies, prescription pills, you have a large variety of drugs that are available so you have a large group of people that use different types of drugs that come here to buy," Maggio said.
But Maggio along with another sergeant and 16 officers are hyper-focused on Monument Street. The street has long been identified as the root of East Baltimore's evil.
The special detail involves 24-hour patrols, mostly undercover in unmarked cars that are switched out often, a combination of detectives watching ubiquitous crime cameras from inside the Eastern District, and radioing to the detail outside.
Together police track hand to hand drug deals and movement of suspects to be intercepted by the special enforcement officers on the street.
Each stop is recorded by officers working the Monument Street Initiative into their notebooks—every name, location and address. They're keeping tabs on who belongs in these neighborhoods and who doesn't.
"That way we are not unfamiliar with who is around here, good and bad. That way we can differentiate who is around here doing bad things and who is here doing the right thing and making the community better," Maggio said.
But police say dealers and customers often jump into stores on Monument Street for a quick deal, often undetected by shop owners which can make it a tough go to crack the illegal trade.
Still, Maggio reports seeing some success in the past 18 months but says the special detail cannot let up or their progress will quickly relapse.