On the front line
Last night I got to see crime in Baltimore up close. A little too close at times. Having been refused an official ridealong by the Police Department, Justin and I managed to arrange to go out on patrol with two union officials, Bob Cherry and Gene Ryan.
Given the fact that homicides in the city occur almost daily (and shootings even more frequently) I should not have been surprised that our first call was to a report of a man shot in a car in West Baltimore.
The victim, 28-year-old Joseph Leegreen Taylor, was not dead when we arrived. He died later in hospital.
The scene was one which must be familiar to officers, but was new to me. A car riddled with bullet-holes was crashed into another vehicle. Through the open passenger door I could see blood soaking the seat. And on the ground were multiple bullet casings, circled with red chalk and each marked with a yellow number.
After listening to detectives exchange theories on what might have happened we left and headed to a project block nearby. There we met two patrolmen who suspected some men in the projects of holding a drug stash. The four police officers split up, two went one side, two the other. Justin and I followed the union guys.
Two minutes later, amid the shouts of “five-0”, we heard a scream. The union cops ran in the direction of the shout. Justin and I, for some reason, ran too. When we reached the other side of the projects we learned that the scream was that of a man who was now in handcuffs. After some questioning and a search (no drugs were found) he was released and told to go home.
Our ridealong was coming to the end, but the most intense action was to come. The jovial chat in the car was interrupted by the announcement of a “signal 13” – officer in distress – on the police radio. That was followed by the shout of an officer who screamed: “I need another unit. Give me another unit”.
We switched on the lights and sirens and blazed through the streets. We did not know what we were attending at the time, but it later transpired that an officer making a car stop had requested the back-up when men in the car jumped out and fled.
Upon arriving at the scene the officers we were with jumped out of the car and, again, Justin and I followed. We ran into the back garden of a house where cops, some of whom had drawn their guns, were searching the bushes with a handgun.
As a helicopter shone a spotlight on the garden, the police radio declared: “The suspect is a black male wearing a blue hat and blue jeans,” And then added the following detail: “He is armed. Repeat, the suspect has a handgun.”
It was at this point I decided that, while I am keen to see crime in Baltimore, I don’t want to become a victim of it.
Despite its reputation, I have to say that, during the short time I have spent in the Baltimore, I have never once felt in any more danger than I do when walking the streets of London or any other large city.
But on hearing that radio announcement I realized that perhaps I had gotten a bit too close to the action. I was armed with nothing more than a notepad and was unwittingly involved in the search for a gunman. In any city that is a dangerous situation. One best observed from a safe distance like the back seat of police patrol car, which is where I watched the rest of the search.