11 March 2001
Charlie Shift (4×12)
Approximately 1945 hours
3800 Block of Fear Avenue
“This is how I’ll go out tonight…
Dressed in blue, by the book tonight…”
(Live – T.B.D.)
Northwest Baltimore City in the early Spring.
The air is crisp and the streets are filthy. Well, that’s not exactly accurate. The streets themselves are fine… it’s the sidewalks, the yards and the alleys that are overflowing with detritus. You see, people in certain parts of Baltimore don’t concern themselves overly much with not littering. It’s not uncommon to see a man walking down the street eating a bag of UTZ potato chips. Barbecue. The small 1 1/2 ounce size. This same man will walk and eat, stopping to chat here and there with someone he knows, and when this man finishes with his bag of chips, down goes the bag right where he stands. This man won’t even crumple up the bag in his hand and toss it in a nearby trash can. That would require far too much effort. He will just drop it and walk on. You see, it’s all about conserving your energy in Baltimore. The Winters can be long, and the Summers grueling. Gotta save up. Like a hibernating bear – year-round conservation of energy. And so it is that on any given day, on nearly any given sidewalk, yard or alley in the City of Baltimore, you will find piles of empty UTZ potato chip bags. Barbecue. Fully expanded but empty… lying on the ground. Sometimes it’s Old Bay flavored. But mostly it’s Barbecue. And don’t even get me started on the used diapers.
For the purposes of the Police Department, Baltimore City is divided into nine Police Districts. Each District is divided into three or four Sectors depending on the size of the area that each District is responsible for. Each Sector is then divided further into Posts, each with a corresponding number that starts with the District identifier. The Sectors usually do not have more than six Posts. Each District is assigned said identifying number; 1 for Central, 2 for Southeast, 3 for Eastern, etc., and these numbers will never change. Each Sector also has a corresponding number, Sector’s 1, 2, 3 or in the case of the Southern and Central Districts, 4. To further add to this plethora of identifying digits, there are three shifts that Patrol Officers work: 12:00 AM until 8:00 AM (12X8 or “the midnight shift”), 8:00 AM until 4:00 PM (8X4 or “day work”), and 4:00 PM until 12:00 AM (4X12 or “night work”). Each of these shifts is assigned… guess what? No, not a number this time. Just for kicks we use letters for the Shifts. 12X8 shift is the “A” or Adam Shift, 8X4 shift is “B” or Boy Shift and 4X12 shift is “C” Charlie Shift. So, an Officer working the midnight shift in the Eastern District, Sector Two, Twenty-Two Post Car would identify himself on the radio as Three Adam Twenty-Two. Again, these divisions and numbers are only for the purposes of the Police Department; used as a means to identify Districts, Officers, crime trends and so forth. No one else in the city (save for possibly the Fire Department) seems to know where these dividing lines are. I always find it highly amusing when any one of the local television news stations sends some poor reporter out into the night to report from Northeast Baltimore… when in fact the reporter is standing smack in the very heart of the Eastern District.
It is 2001 and I am currently assigned to the Northwest District, Sector One. I am a “floater”, which means that I have not yet been assigned a permanent Post Car. I mostly work Fourteen Post Car, and I am gunning for this to be my permanent Post. So, my identifying number for the purposes of reports and radio traffic, should I get that Post Car assignment, would be 614.
Whenever I work 614 Car, at some point during my shift, I park the patrol car on the corner of Reisterstown Road and Fear Avenue and get out to walk foot. There is a Chinese carry out food store on this corner that everyone knows is used by the area drug dealers to sell their wares. Directly behind this store is an area that is frequently used by junkies to shoot their heroin or smoke their crack that they just purchased from the dealers out front. This area consists of a vacant dwelling with a dilapidated staircase leading up to the second-floor deck of the vacant house. Beside this house is a series of other vacant dwellings that are also used by the area junkies for shelter from the elements and the Police. Junkies usually sit under the stairs and fire up their shit because the steps provide a modicum of shelter and they also make it hard for the Police to see them sitting there. Also at the bottom of the staircase is an old tree that provides some cover from the street. That is why when I am Fourteen Car, I actually get out of the car and walk foot in this area to check for junkies. The other reason is that the dealers that sell from inside the store will frequently hide their stash back behind those stairs.
I always start by driving East on Fear Avenue, slightly past the back area where the junkies hide, and then double back – hitting the area with the spotlight to check for anyone hiding there. This is both an Officer Safety issue that I have developed, and a quick way to scare any potential attackers into dropping whatever they might have.
So tonight, I do my usual U-Turn and hit the area with my light, however, as on most occasions, I see that no one is there. I park my car on Fear facing Reisterstown and advise the Dispatcher of the location that I would be on foot. Can’t hurt to search for a stash back here tonight. Might get lucky. The radio crackles back in my ear.
“Fourteen? Can you advise of the location again? I am unfamiliar with the Northwest”
“Ten – four.” I reply, realizing that she must be a Dispatcher from another District working with us tonight. “It’s the corner of Fear Avenue and Reisterstown. F-E-A-R.”
My immediate thought is: “Fear, as in… I have none.” But I chose not to air this silly opinion, realizing how cocky and irrelevant it would sound. Plus… it’s not one hundred percent true. I am always a bit on edge at night on the streets. Not scared, just on edge. It is a good way to be. Keeps me alert.
“Ten – four, I’ve got it now.” comes the reply.
While advising Dispatch of my location, I had been walking towards the back of the vacant dwelling with my flashlight in hand and checking the area around me. This part of Fear Avenue is only one block long and the only streetlights are at the opposite end from where I am standing. Therefore, the area in question was very dark. Almost immediately following this exchange with the Dispatcher, I round the tree at the foot of the stairs and come face to face with a rail-thin black female. She is standing there staring at me, wide eyed. Frozen. We both are. My heart jumps and I immediately go for my gun. I keep it holstered as I stammer:
“Show me your hands and sit the fuck down.”
I know I shouldn’t have cursed. She had not shown any aggression. But damn if she did not come out of nowhere! How the fuck had I not seen her? Furthermore, why the fuck had she stayed here when she saw my spotlight and heard me on the radio? My mind races back to my earlier thought: “Fear, as in… I have none.” Yeah right.
The woman does what I tell her and sits down on the step. Calming myself, I begin to look at the steps around her. And that’s when I see it: Sitting there on the step beside this rail-thin junkie are the following items:
A syringe with an orange cap on it – unused, a pink lighter – the see-through kind, a large bottle cap – probably from a forty ounce, and a small torn zip lock baggie containing white powder residue. This was her fix for the evening, and she hadn’t even fired it up yet. I hit her directly in the eyes with my flashlight; a tactic that people the world over absolutely HATE, and one I take no pleasure in using; and ask her what she is doing back here? She hesitates and starts to stand up.
“Uh-uh… nope. Sit down”
“Where’s the rest of it?”
She hesitates again… and finally reaches inside her bra with her right hand. As she does this, I instinctively go for my gun again. I keep it holstered as she slowly pulls out another syringe from within either her shirt pocket or from inside her bra. This one is not capped and from where I am standing, despite the poor lighting, I can see a smoky brown liquid floating inside the dirty chamber. Heroin. I got to her just before she stuck that needle in and sent the plunger home. This is going to ruin her night. As she pulls the syringe out, she speaks in a shaky voice:
“Officer, I am gonna be honest with you…” Her voice trails off, but I know where she is going with this.
“Is that your stuff?” I ask, pointing to the paraphernalia on the steps.
“Yeah.” She almost sounds defeated. “Are you gonna lock me up? Please don’t lock me up. Can’t I just shoot it into my mouth? Can’t you just let me go?”
This always happens. You catch ‘em and the bargaining starts.
As all this is going on, I have been listening to my radio with one ear, and her with the other. Six Charlie Thirteen – a big bear of a man we all call Chief – has some sort of domestic situation further down on Reisterstown and for a minute, the Dispatcher is unable to reach him on the radio.
“Six Charlie Thirteen?” No answer. “Six Charles Thirteen? Thirteen?” Still no answer.
Chief is in trouble and here I am fucking around with some junkie over one empty baggie and a syringe full of Heroin.
I know that if Chief doesn’t answer in the next five seconds, the Dispatcher is going to drop a Signal Thirteen on him. She should. Any good Dispatcher will know when their Officers are in trouble, and will waste no time in calling for nearby Officers to assist.
“SIX CHARLES THIRTEEN!”
“Thirteen.” Chief’s voice, low but firm. Thank God.
“Thirteen, are you alright?”
“Ten four. I just need one more unit down here with me. Just one Ten – Eleven unit.”
A female voice breaks in: “Ninety – One in route.”
Chief is fine, the wagon is on its way to back him, and I start to let the radio trail off from my ear and refocus on the problem at hand. Junkie Girl’s nose is running as I hear her voice filtering back into my head.
“Set the needle down, stand up and put your hands behind your back.”
She complies. Reluctantly. I cuff her hands behind her back, snapping the metal tenderly as I do. She is shaking. Starting to realize what is happening. I feel kind of bad, so in an effort to give her some comfort, I try not to cuff her too tight. She sits back down and I call for the wagon. Ninety-One advises that she is tied up with Chief and that she will be up to my location as soon as she can. I decide to bring Junkie Girl out to the street side curb instead of sitting back in this shit hole. (It smells like piss in every alley and vacant dwelling in the Northwest, but this one is particularly foul.) The Dispatcher asks if I am OK, and I advise that I am fine. Like I said, good Dispatchers always know. I request a Complaint Number for my arrest report and start to get Junkie Girl’s information for the toe tag. While we talk, she keeps asking if I could just please let her go. The whole time her nose and eyes are running profusely, and I start to feel quite bad for this woman. She tells me that heroin makes her bowels loose and her eyes and nose run when she doesn’t get her fix. It also makes her cold without it; shiver like a son of a bitch. She has three kids, no husband, no job. Her boyfriend got her hooked-on heroin and she needed that fix that I had just taken away from her. As she details her sad circumstances to me, I force myself to take notice of her. Kind of pretty. I mean, she doesn’t have that chewed up and spit out look that most of the junkies around here have. She might have been quite beautiful in her day. Before the monkey climbed on her back and took control of her every waking thought. She speaks in a soft voice and she genuinely seems harmless. I try to explain my side of the equation. How I never, ever take the cuffs off once I put them on. How I cannot simply look the other way for her. How no one put a gun to her head and made her take that first hit that got her hooked in the first place. I am halfway through my “I can’t let you go because I am a good cop and besides you might be working with IAD and what would I do with the drugs that you had if I did let you go” speech when Junkie Girl does the damnedest thing:
Right in the middle of my preaching to her, Junkie Girl slides her left hand from behind her back and wipes her nose with it!
There is a momentary pause as we both realize what just happened. Staring at me wide eyed, realizing that I had witnessed her near escape from the handcuffs, she timidly places her hand behind her back and slides it right back into the cuff.
“How the fuck did you get your hand out of that cuff?”
“You was being nice Officer, and you didn’t cuff me that tight. I got small wrists you know.”
Damn right she did. I laughed until the wagon finally arrived, and as I placed Junkie Girl inside for her short trip to Central Booking, I thought to myself:
“This is a scene straight out of a movie.”
Or a book.