Saturday, January 2, 2010
On the day before New Year's Eve, Buz went to one of his favorite local eateries, the Subway sandwich shop in Hampden. Usually, one can get a good front-row seat of the street action in Hampden's Falls road while you dine in the "dining room."
I think that all of the good folks who work there are Nepalese, one of who used to be my neighbor. So, as my sandwiches were being made, I told her about the Baltimore custom or tradition of shooting guns off at midnight on New Year's. She said, "you're kidding, right?". Unfortunately, not.
Now, I grew up in Baltimore, first in Perkins Homes, then in Fells Point, and in Butcher's Hill, but I had never noticed (or remember) this phenomenon. I didn't see or hear of this until, when in the Air Force, I visited a buddy in Grand Forks, and at midnight on New Year's, he took out his trusty shotgun and fired several rounds off into the air.
Many of you probably read Peter Hermann's piece in the Sun about this issue. Early on in my time in the police department, I attended roll call one New Year's Eve in the Western District, and the sergeant giving roll call said (paraphrasing, since it's been a couple of years ago, at least): for those of you who haven't worked a New Year's before, when midnight approaches, make yourselves scarce. Get the fuck off the streets. Go behind a school, factory, or under a railroad bridge. Your pretty cars with those funny bubble-gum machines make great targets for payback to the cops.
Though I thought these directions unusual, I did not really find them weird; they seemed imbued with common sense and experience. In my short time in the Western then ( a little over a year), I learned the truth to the saying: "a policeman's lot is not a happy one". Coming out of college after a 4-year's in the Air Force, and being recruited as an idealistic yet somewhat naive young person, I was shocked at the antipathy that the police received from the "community"--although perhaps I really shouldn't have been. That uniform and badge mean little, especially when some tough guy wants to stick it up your ass. Being nice isn't what it's all about. Although, it's nice to be nice when you can.
Anyway, more than 10 years later as a sergeant in the Southwestern, I found myself, on New Year's Eve giving the same admonition to my squad--make yourselves invisible at 12- with the caveat that they should still handle calls for service if it was safe to do so.
As it got close to midnight, I drove my marked patrol car around to the rear of Edmondson High School which sits high on a rise on the western edge of the city affording good views of downtown at night, figuring I'd watch the fireworks downtown. Ha! As soon as midnight hit, there were fireworks all around me, except they weren't fireworks! I thought I was in downtown Beirut! Guns were going off all around me as the dispatcher wished us all Happy New Year.
Darn, wouldn't ya know one of my guys was driving down Collins Avenue and saw a dude firing in the air, and decided to go after him in a house ala Bealefeld; of course he called for help and of course the whole squad came flying ignoring the flying bullets. We got the guy and the gun, but it was a bit uncomfortable for a while.
Were we derelict in our duty, those of us making "ourselves scarce". Well, no, it was just a matter of survival for us poor schmucks in patrol. These were the days when there were no extra 1000 police on the street going after people with guns. If anything, there far less police on the street, because we always operated on minimal strength on the big holidays. As many people were given time off as possible. Only when O'Malley came into office with Norris did there materialize any effort to attack the NYE gun problem.