Thursday, November 11, 2010

Odds and Ends from scraps of thought re: crime and police and security in Baltimore

Buz has not posted for a while since he's been a busy beaver with several security-related projects. However, there's been a lot going on in the crime/police/security world in Baltimore (and everywhere else, too).
So, some random, eclectic thoughts:
  • Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police members are voting on a new contract offer today. This is the first offer that I can ever remember, after 30 years working on the city police force, that the city offered a reduction in pay (in this case 1.95%). In exchange, the officers get 5 more days off in 2012. Part of ongoing strife between the city and FOP.
  • A small nonprofit Christian school in Hamilton got broken into, and all of their recently purchased (from a grant) computers were stolen, along with a lot of other items. Wonder why they think it's an "inside job"? Large scale computer room thefts associated with burglaries are not unusual. We can think of several, all unsolved: Bryn Mawr, Boys Latin, UMBC, a lawyer's office in Mt. Washington, et al. And I agree: in most cases, there is at least some inside connection, if only with information.
  • Recently, a whole tractor trailer loaded with new laptops bound for a Wal-Mart was stolen from a trucking company in Southeast Baltimore. The tractor was found not too far away, in Rosedale. The empty trailer was found a the Maryland House rest stop on I95. Betcha some insurance company is upset. Buz drove around the site and saw only very modest security arrangements. The Christmas season has begun! (This case almost certainly involved inside info!)
  • Speaking of non profits, I once wrote a letter to the head of a foundation, announcing the kickoff of my security consulting business. He wrote a nice letter back, saying he couldn't think of anybody who might use my services. Yet, like the nonprofit school mentioned above, many grant recipients get money to buy computers an other things, but have scant security measures in place to protect the foundation's investment. Nonprofits are especially vulnerable, me thinks, to criminal activity of all kinds.
  • The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations was supposed to have received a report from Johns Hopkins Hospital by now discussing the incident recently where a patient was shot and killed, and the shooter, her son, took his own life. I wonder what Hopkins' Risk Management wrote as to what processes they will put in place to see that an incident like this is not repeated. The Joint Commission only rarely gets involved in crime issues--mostly medical issues--but in this case a patient died. Magnetometers to check for firearms at Hopkins and most hospitals would be difficult to implement, costly, and of dubious effectiveness.
  • Your consultant recently was mentioned on the Mt. Washington list serve as a resource for people wanting to better secure their homes against burglaries. As a result Buz performed 3 residential security audits for homeowners in that beautiful community. Everybody was really nice and easy to work with!
  • Over the last year, we've made presentations to community associations on this very subject, home burglaries, including folks in Rodgers Forge and Bellona-Gittings in North Baltimore.
  • One doctor who works and teaches at Hopkins medicine had his house broken into and almost all his lectures were on the laptop which was stolen during the burglary. However, he said the police were very nice, and spent several hours processing the scene. And detectives came to his house almost every night during the next week to check on him and followup for any new leads or information. Well done!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ruminations on the shooting at Hopkins Hospital--a watershed event for hospital security?

Buz followed closely the shooting of a surgeon at the world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital as it unfolded via Twitter and news reports.

So, he has some random, eclectic, and iconoclastic thoughts: mostly, of course, from the safety of hindsight, but also with an interest in security matters. Hopkins has a special place for me since I am a native Baltimoron, my mom worked there fro more than 20 years, and she died there holding my hand, and I worked there, briefly, in security, during the winter of 2004-2005.

  • Oddly enough, the shooter and I had some things in common: like him, I spent the last couple of nights in the hospital, one or two overnight, to be by my mother's bedside during the last couple of days of her life.
  • And, like him, I was armed, being a member of the Bmore Po-leece.
  • And though a doctor came and told me the day before (I still remember his face, but not his name), that medicine had nothing further to offer her and the end was near, I differed from the shooter inasmuch I didn't even think of shooting anybody. And though he seemed nervous, I thanked the doc, and appreciated that he didn't sugarcoat anything. In fact, she died the next day.
  • Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, I was working home at this computer when I saw a tweet coming over that a doctor was shot at JHH. Immediately, Justine Fenton and Peter Hermann began making crime tweets and reports, along with lots of otehr people.
  • Of course, initially, neither Hopkins staff nor the police knew what they were dealing with and many institutions have been haunted with the specter of Columbine and Virginia Tech.
  • However, we followed tapes of the 911 calls, and a number of calls were received pinpointing the location of the shooting and even the building and floor. (We wish the 911 Communications Assistants were not so abrupt and demanding when at the end of the call they said: what's your name!? Um, couldn't you, ladies, say it a bit more nicer than that?
  • We wish the shift commander, when the call went out over police radio, and several Eastern units announced they were responding, didn't say: what was that call? I know, lieutenants are in meetings and busy and stuff, perhaps preparing for Comstat. But wold have loved to have heard, instead: "I'm en route; units advise what you have asap".
  • Nevertheless, on the police channel, Eastern District units were on the scene of the correct building, on the correct floor, and were broadcasting the exact room number of where the shooter was, and that they had the floor in and the room covered---in about 3 minutes and a half after the call went out!
  • All the rest was hurry up and wait, as, unbeknownst to everyone, the suicidal/homicidal patent's son, immediately after shooting the doc, went into mom's room, shot her in the head, and then himself, and lay there for 2 hours, while he bled to death.
  • As with most incidents of this nature, the drama was over and done with quickly. But the officially mandated military-like, cover-all-bases drama went on for several hours, with the arrival of SWAT teams (including one from Baltimore County?!) [Research on school shootings, for example, shows that the vast majority are over and done in less than 15 minutes--usually with the shooter(s) killing themselves. Columbine's killings actually were over and done in 14 minutes, I believe.]
  • When the police's Mr. Data finally entered the room, it was clear what had happened hours ago.
  • These things can be very chaotic to manage and control from a command perspective. Just managing responding police and fire units, crowd control, evacuation, and traffic control, not to mention possible contingencies and exigencies, can be mind-boggling.
  • Buz doesn't think so much of Columbine, as he does of Mumbai--and that's the possibility departments must think about.
  • But it was good practice in emergency management for Hopkins and BPD, in an environment where realistic practice tests are hard to carry out.
  • Why the Baltimore County SWAT team? Are we in the city so short of personnel in that area? Is the depth of our units so low?!
  • Missing out of the main coverage of the story was: what happened to the doctor after he was shot and collapsed on the floor after dumb-dumb went into the room and did himself? Who were the hero or heroes at grave risks to themselves who got the doc on a stretcher/gurney, and then, somehow got him down to the ER, no doubt with assistance of JHH security and other staff. Buz would like to really hear more about him/her/them! Why'd they do it? Weren't they afraid? (I heard one of the them was a medical sales rep of some kind: no commission for that gig, though).
  • It was interesting hearing my old boss from both SED and JHH address the press mob after the incident and hearing him responds to questions, particularly the question about use of metal detectors. His answer was well thought and reasonable.
  • Wonder what other two hospitals that he knows of in the country have metal detectors. Why? How big are they? How do they manage them? Ah, questions, questions.
  • I was really pleased that right after this incident Police Commissioner Bealefeld chaired a meeting of security personnel and others and coached them on updating their emergency plans.
  • The Sun then comes out with an editorial saying Hopkins should "do some research" and learn what works best at keeping guns out and managing crowds. And they chastised the Security Director because, they would say, that airports handle a lot more people, per day, than the hospital does. Well, yes, but your tax dollars are paying for both the TSA guards doing the checking and the MDtA Police at the airport--who are both regularly present and heavily armed.
  • Buz has stood, on a number of afternoons and evenings at the main Wolfe Street entrance to the hospital--in the evening, and it can be chaotic with lots of people coming in and leaving every moment. Including Hopkins employees who either don't display their badge till asked or have it turned with the back displayed--and then still have to be asked to see it. It will take a whole culture change to switch to metal detectors and a lot more staff, believe!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The State's Attorney's election: what was at stake?

It's a bright new day in Baltimore. Gregg Bernstein, a white Jewish guy, won the State's Attorney's election, despite running in a city which is 65% African-American. And, in one of life's ironies, his incumbent opponent conceded on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur--the day of Atonement.

So, what was at stake, and what was it portending for Baltimore's future? Well, if Ms. Jessamy, the incumbent, had won, we would have gotten at least 4 more years of criminal "processing". Many, but not all, serious crimes were treated as paperwork to be processed. If one believed Page Croyder, a former State's Attorney, she had no interest in the war room--a regular meeting where, supposedly, the players in the criminal justice system came together to try to figure out how to combat these dangerous, repeated criminals which were destroying neighborhoods in our city and our poor, beleaguered city's reputation.

Buz also put a sign for Bernstein in the front yard of his North Baltimore row house, since he is not the police commissioner, he was able to do it without any controversy. I voted for (along with my beautiful wife) Bernstein, and supported him, because, in addition to the factors above:
  • Ms. Jessamy always seemed to be in a nasty, killer/attack mode. She looked like she was not a nice person and not easy to deal with.
  • And though I have compassion for her coming of age during the civil rights movement, with her, as with Faulkner, the past never seemed to be dead--it wasn't even past. She seemed to believe that all defendants were victims of society and police mistreatment. That the police must cross all the T's and dot all the i's, or she would not proceed. She did this in the face of overwhelming evidence that hardened, nasty criminals would most often target black people with vicious crimes, and intimidation--discounting the safety of the people she was sworn to protect.
  • She publicly announced how many "servings" of illegal drugs would have to be possessed by a defendant before she would proceed with charges of felony distributing--even if the drugs were sold to an undercover police officer or an informant. If you didn't have or sell x number, well, it was simple possession. And all the druggies, and their lawyers, knew it.
  • Her posturing, through her spokeswoman, about the police making thousands of illegal arrests when, in fact, the arrests met the standard of probable cause (mostly), but the State's Attorney's office created the new category of "abated by arrest", did not prosecute a legal arrest, but felt the arrest and brief incarceration took care of the matter. The result: the vast majority of people arrested for crimes of disorder, leaving our city feeling unsafe and out of control, now believed they were "victims" of an evil, out-of-control, racist, police force. When her office was just managing the numbers, she made a goblin and enemy out of the cops--instead of ne'er do wells who mess things up for Baltimore's law-abiding residents--by dealing drugs, drinking, fighting, creating disturbances, littering, and urinating on the street.
  • She has never gotten along with any police commissioner--except, perhaps, to some extent with Lenny Hamm. All the rest were enemies--filled with incompetent staff.
  • She did not fire, or even publicly chastise, her spokeswoman, Margaret Burns, for her insensitive remarks around the plea-bargain of the killers of Zach Sowers. "he was sleeping like a baby" and "he may have hit his head on the bumper of a car". Extremely insensitive remarks, which had to be listened to by the victim's wife and family. (Now, poor ole Buz will go out on a limb and say that, in this case, he actually agreed with the plea bargain, because the state did not have much evidence at all, and we'd rather get a conviction for something than nothing at all--but Burns didn't say that.)
  • That she seemed to take no responsibility at all for the shortcomings of the criminal justice system in Baltimore--unlike the police commissioner, who often said we've got to work harder.
  • She assumed no leadership role in try to fix Baltimore's broken criminal justice system; "everything all right; we're doing a fine job!" seemed to be all she was saying. Most Baltimorons like me and the ones I talked to didn't seem to agree.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Baltimore and its future: crime and the attack on bicyclists

The future of Baltimore is in bicycling, and in walking.

Or it would be except for the horrific news of attacks on bicycle riders in Baltimore's northern neighborhoods, especially near where Stephen Pitcairn was stabbed to death in a heartbreaking robbery heard by his mother hundreds of miles away.

First there was Dan Rodricks' piece on an attack on a cyclist during the day near the Baltimore Streetcar Museum. A lot can be said about that story, not the least of which was the slow and uninspired police response, both on the 911 operator, the officer, and most importantly how the police force is structured to respond to crime from law abiding citizens. (Betcha, 23-1, if I said my armored car just got held up and I'm following it on Falls Road, the response might have been a little better). It's nice that the guy who got pelted with stones was able to use some moral suasion to pester the kids into shaking his hand (some of them, anyway). Buz isn't sure about that's staying power. They learn to "bank" people for fun and power in their neighborhood, but it's usually someone we never hear about. [By the way, I wonder what that police report looks like, when the officer eventually did find the victim--if any report was even written-heh, heh, since, actually, the kids committed an attempted armed robbery.]

Then we learn about folks being attacked as they ride their bikes through the "red zone" between North Avenue and lower Charles Village. Groups of guys knock riders off their bikes, and one of them grabs the bike from the fallen victim, and rides off. This has happened even during the evening commute hour.

Our city's future and livelihood as a livable urban space is dependent on young persons, young professionals, artists, hipsters, and even good ole bike riders like yours truly getting out of their cars and riding to work or school or just around town. Our future depends on bicycling.

Yep, riding bikes. Nobody seems to get this yet. And our city leaders are all wrapped up in patting themselves on the back for looking backward and sponsoring the past: the silly Grand Prix race in downtown Baltimore. (Nascar has been losing attendance at many venues.)

Wouldn't it have been wonderful instead, if our leaders looked to the future and took the coming end of fossil fuels, global warming and the oil spill in the Gulf seriously? Many well-educated young professionals get it: they choose local, organic, they recycle and they bicycle and walk.

Can you imagine the leadership shown if Baltimore dedicated itself to being truly bicycle and pedestrian friendly for that week, and making an effort to make cycling to and from work a priority all the time? Instead we pander to corporate interests, desperate to get any hunk of money from them, which will never cover the city's costs to put on the event. Desperate for few more bucks for the hotels and minimum wage jobs many offer. For a week. For a city with one of the highest asthma and allergy rates in the country, one of the highest air polluted cities in the country, and a downtown already choked with traffic on weekends when really nothing is going on, and which has one of the longest average commutes in the country. Noise, pollution, street closings for people trying to get to work for weeks in advance, and after, oh, and yeah, sure, eventually we'll go swimming in the harbor. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of police and fire overtime needed for the event, as well--in this fiscally broke city.

But the bike robberies might get a few arrests, then they'll be forgotten. The message the city is sending: who cares about bikes and safe walking and stuff: let's all go to cars and race: it's great. Um, yeah, it's about as exciting as watching paint dry--till there's these great crashes and explosions. So, like Preakness, the city evolves into being an entertainment place for a few days, with lots of partying, drinking, out-of-towners having "fun", etc. But the city's real problems basically get unaddressed, because they're too hard.

There's a lot of anger out there between the "haves" and "have-nots", and it often leads to violence. There's little or no manufacturing jobs out there, and a large chunk of the city is a no-go zone, where an internal civil war rages over the "game", and the anger pops loose--mostly on weekends. One judge told me a couple of years ago, regarding our broken criminal justice "system", "the criminals aren't afraid of us anymore". He was meaning us in general--the taxpayers.

So, despite what you may have thought about former Mayor Dixon, she did have a vision of clean and green for the city, and was an avid bicyclist herself. As John Lennon might have said, Imagine: closing downtown streets, not for a car race, but for bicycling and walking, in an effort to get folks moving, healthy, and combating obesity, and doing it often, and using it as a marketing and selling point in conjunction with the city's other strengths. An effort to bring the city to a more human scale, where we get to chat and wave at each other and therefore become safer. Instead, we get 200mph cars racing each other downtown, and the bike robberies and "bankings" continue.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mayor says more cops!

Just heard on the news tonite the Baltimore's Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake is going to hire 100 new police officers by the end of this year, and 300 by the end of next year.

Hmm.. Maybe next year is an election year?!

When I was in graduate school, I took a course in Municipal Financial Planning taught by an adjunct, Mr. Lloyd Jones, who was then the budget director of Baltimore. He said, among many other things, : you, as a political official don't mess with the boys in blue, police and fire, or the teachers. Woe be unto the politician that does and wants to get elected.

Well, yes, but the rank and file think the our Mayor SRB has messed with them plenty (Buz doesn't totally agree, but gets the unions' point).

But perhaps she fully believes that the city will dramatically win the lawsuit the unions have lodged against the city because of the pension. Or, the announcement will simply keep the wolves from the door till after the election. Or the economy will suddenly get tremendously better. Who knows?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Police layoffs in Oakland, California: can it happen here and will it? !

Two things made Buz's eyebrows go up yesterday, and got him wondering and thinking (thinking is always dangerous!). One was that the FOP has assessed an extra deduction on both active and retired officers in order to support the lawsuit against the city (the irony was not lost on me).

The other was that the city of Oakland, California is laying off 80 police officers, because the city is broke, and you guessed it, pension issues.

Now, mind you, Oakland only has a authorized strength of 800; so the layoffs represent 10% of the force. And IT IS NOT A LOW CRIME CITY. A police force of 800 in a city of 400,000 residents?! Baltimore has a force of 3000 in a city of 650,000 residents.

Will the city next year be forced to lay off lot of cops here?

So, the FOPs treasury cannot now afford to pay the only winners in this situation: the lawyers for the FOP and firefighters who are charging $100,000 per week. Will they win? I dunno (a technical term). Of course, they've assured their clients that they will win.

But what happens if they win? What taxes will the mayor raise to pay for a decade of her predecessors malfeasance in funding the pension? She'll never get a property tax increase thru city council; she couldn't even get a 4-cent bottle tax. So, what programs will be therefore cut?
Which agencies?
I guess we shall see, but I wouldn't want to be on probation next spring.

While Buz is not a great negotiator, his gut wishes that our union head would stop publicly calling the mayor "a liar"--even if he really thinks she is. Say it to each other in private, and remember: she's a politician, and conditions change. And perhaps saying that police and fire are going to turn their backs on the mayor and city council is a hard-nosed negotiating tactic, but I would be loath to say something like that. Because I painfully remember the police strike of 1974.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fund raiser for hit and run victim!

These irresponsible drivers out there aren't happy that they speed, yell on their cell phone, and drink. When they hit someone, they don't stop; they keep on going. It drives Buz crazy!

But a recent hit and run really hit close--in a way.
My wife and I had just interviewed a nice, artistic young woman who was self-employed a painter for a modest job at our beautiful row house in Hampden which we rent out. We both liked her, and her price looked like it was going to be reasonable, but then we never heard from her.

After several attempts to contact, she finally phoned us from the hospital. She had just finished an assignment in Homeland, and was getting into her small pickup truck, when: BAM! She and her truck got struck by a blue GMC pickup, knocking her into the air. She suffered a fractured pelvis, and her leg was fractured in several places. A roofer working nearby saw it, but could not get the tag number. Quick response from Baltimore City fire/ems units probably saved her life, as she was going in and out of consciousness in the ambo.

The hit and run clown has never been located. Why don't these cowards stop?! Probably for a lot of reasons: knew it was their fault, and didn't want it "on their record"; drunk or drugged (not in Baltimore, eh?); no license; license suspended or revoked, etc., etc.

But anyway:

She, Miki Scholtes, is now preparing to get well enough to go home, but her friends have gotten together to have a fund-raiser on her behalf:

TOMORROW, SATURDAY, JUNE 26TH, AND THE WINDUP SPACE, 12 W. NORTH AVENUE, 3 BANDS FOR 10 BUCKS ADMISSION. THEY HOPE TO RAISE ENOUGH TO MAKE HER CAR PAYMENTS AND INSURANCE, SO THAT once she's healed, she can get back to work to support herself. Read more details here.

There's also going to be a raffle with some great stuff. Buz encourages all to go, if they like cool bands, or cool stuff.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Police and their body armor: wish they wouldn't do that!

The other night we saw a near to us drug raid in one of the rowhouses near Buz's humble abode. There were about 6-8 plainclothes police officers with the usual assortment of t-shirts, badges around their necks, short, etc.

But what alarmed poor, old-school Buz was the open wearing of the soft body armor over their street clothes, dark blue (for poor visibility, I guess), but the words "police" in big white letters. Obviously, the manufacutrer vendor thought they should be worn on drug raid, just, you know, like on television. So, this shows the criminals and everybody that they're wearing soft body armor (it's a no-no to call them bullett proof!). I wish they wouldn't do that!

These cops and the commanders that buy this stuff have really gotten comlacent. When it's widely "advertised" that the main part of the body is protected, you are inculcating into the criminals mind that he should just shoot you in the head. During my career many officer were shot and killed in the head; I won't bother to name them. Oh, I know, It won't happen to me!

Um, as far as I know, polce general orders still require officers to wear their body armor while on duty at all times. The uniformed folks have to!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The alarm people are back: alarming!

Just received a comment from an old post (it's the last in a series of comments) about door-to-door sales of alarms. I'm posting it since they are back again, claiming to work for GE, which makes products for many alarm companies. When you ask them for a brochure, or business card, they won't have one: you have to wonder how they stay in business.

Please see:

Buz wonders if they are licensed to do alarms in Maryland. I wonder if anyone has ever tested one of their alarms, or been broken into. How do you like the "service". Hate to say it, but that residential industry has sort of evolved into a racket (this is not my original thought). Nobody wants to upgrade your alarm; they only want to sell you a new system

Friday, May 14, 2010

Preakness and the Running of the Drunks

Buz looks back on Preakness, which is tomorrow, with a mixture of shaking my head, disdain, and skepticism. I'm told it's all about the money; and that's nice, but you have to wonder if it is really worth it sometimes, as the city and the racing "industry" loses all moral authority regarding the infield.

If tomorrow is as hot and humid as today was, the drinking will be heavy, and the trouble will be brewing.

When I was promoted to Captain in 1990 ( I know, I know, a couple of years ago), I was sent to be the deputy commander of the Northwestern District, where Pimlico is located. But it was in August, so I missed the Preakness that year. I later learned that 1990 was one of the worst years we had as far as policing the neighborhoods around the track went. Officers would attempt arrests by themselves, not realizing that one knucklehead was often with a pack of others--all drunk, rowdy, and feeling that all rules were dismissed for the day. (they just came from the infield, so who could blame them). The officer would then get attacked as the friends tried to release and liberate their arrested friend. As other officers responded to the call for assistance, they often couldn't get thru because of the traffic, so they abandoned their cars and ran several blocks, thus causing even more traffic chaos with the police cars blocking the street. There were assaults, several arrests, and chaos lasting the remainder of the day.

In '91, I was asked to plan the district's deployment for the neighborhoods surrounding the track on Preakness day, and was able to create a plan for using the Northwestern cops in a more planned, sensible and strategic manner. I'm modestly proud to say the in the remaining 5 years I was at NWD, problems were minimal, and arrests were a handful. I left right after the 1995 Preakness to go downtown to spearhead the privatization of the fire and police medical services.
But, I remember thinking: Why is the city providing several hundred police to the Pimlico Infield on behalf of a private firm, not to support horse racing, but instead to subsidize drunken brawls, anti-women behavior, racist actions by semi-thugs, and under age drinking?
I remember one year at a planning meeting, where a high-ranking police official asked that black officers not be stationed around the music stage, since they were the special targets of beer-can throwers. The favorite sport of the day (someone said there was a horse race?) was taking a can of beer, popping the top, and when almost full, throwing it at someone/anyone. It didn't have to be a cop. Everyone between the thrower and the target would get beer on them! And when it hit you it hurt! Wow! Where could you hope to ever find such fun!

One Tactical sergeant told me one year that "they shut us down; we lost the stage.": the music at the stage couldn't continue since so many beer cans were being thrown. So, the music stopped. The show did not go on.

No real, legitimate bar in their right mind, thinking of liability, would tolerate or allow such behavior--much less allow folks to bring their own beer in. No security consultant worth their salt, I don't think, would recommend such behavior be encouraged.

Of course, with cops working in squads of 1 sergeant with 8-12 officers, and dozens of officers assigned to the infield at one time, they would go in en masse, as a group, and grab trouble makers and escort them thru the infield tunnel and deposit them outside the track where Northwestern personnel would "persuade" them to leave the area. The police on the infield did not have sufficient personnel to make arrests, so unless the "patron" assaulted an officer, he was simply thrown out. Needless to say we weren't surprised when there was the incident when cops removed their badges and name tags and engaged in a bit of use of force.

I suggested, one year, to the high-ranking official of the track--since there was so much concern over the fighting, that they simply forbid bringing in outside drinks, but sell booze themselves. He dismissed my idea (circa 1992) offhand, saying you know, the sports clubs, fraternities, and teams then wouldn't come; however, we will raise the infield price. Oh.

I was also really pleased the Ed Norris, told Pimlico officials, finally: ya gotta deal with the infield yourselves; we're phasing our involvement out.

Last year, I didn't find a video of the infield worth mentioning. I did however, see plenty the year before during the running of the urinals. And it appeared the private security force was a bit over matched, and not really wanting to get into it with these muscled, sweaty steroid-enhanced drunks. We'll see how they do this year.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The police respond: burglary is not decriminalized! And: correction: they never said: "We're too busy"!

Well, I got a surprise after posting my last blog when I reported the travails of a lawyer-friend whose offices in Mt. Washington were visited by some of our local burglars on one of their night-time missions. Ya'll can read the posting just before this one, but the key point is that my friend's keys to his storage unit and the code were stolen during the burglary.
He quickly called and had the code changed after discovering this the next morning.
But the dirt bags came there and tried to get into the parking lot of the storage facility using the wrong code: security cameras captured his car tag number, the tattoo on his arm, and his face. He and some buddies also came back a different day when that storage place was having an auction. They are also on camera then. They wandered around the yard looking at stuff and eyed and tried the doors, but did not get into the building.

My friend gave all this information to the police. I recalled that he said they went back and forth about who was going to got out to get the tape, etc., INDICATING IN CONTEXT THAT THEY WERE REALLY BUSY.

So, I got an email from someone in the Deputy Commissioner for Operations office. The "Deputy" as the person who holds that position is known, is in charge of day to day operations in the police department. His radio call sign is "Unit 2"--thus he is directly under the Police Commissioner (our Mencken-like, straight-talkin', ice hockey playin' top cop).
This official quoted my humble blog posting and said that he/they wanted to follow up on this case and endeavor to give the victim some resolution and perhaps a more favorable impression of the BPD.
So, I followed up with my friend to make sure he was ok with that, and he surprised me by saying "sure; I'd like to help them get these guys." So, despite insurance having paid for most of the stolen computers and some of the damage, he welcomed the additional inquiry by the police. My pal did have one correction to my blog posting, those: NOBODY FROM THE POLICE ACTUALLY SAID:"WE'RE TOO BUSY". He agreed with me that in context of everything that was going on with crime, etc., in the police department, the general impression he got was that they were too busy. However, nobody actually said that, and all the dealings with the original reporting officer, the detectives, and the crime lab tech were positive and professional and courteous. They just never followed up on the tip of the camera film.

In fact, the last the lawyer heard from them was last summer on July 24th, when the office manager got a call and said that someone from the Cyber Crimes Unit was going out to the storage place and make a disc of the relevant film. After that, utter silence.
So, I emailed the Deputy's office back and said come on out and gave the address/phone number and name of the office manager, etc.

The Deputy's office assured me that there would be no "witch hunt" or "blame game" regarding this incident--in response to my concern about that. They were well aware that the district detective units were often overwhelmed with cases--particularly Northern District, which showed fully 20% of the city's burglaries.
They have (at least until the recent shootings) created a burglary detail, while using officers from other areas in the city to cover patrol posts. And they have made a couple burglary arrests. The department agreed that something like a video or tag number in a burglary case can be invaluable, because often in burglaries there is so little evidence or clues to go on.

However, now that two shootings on Greenmount resulting in deaths have occurred in the past week, and one farther up on York Road a bit earlier, Buz suspects that the hunt for the burglars has been supplanted by the heavy police presence in the Waverly area.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Thoughts and observations about crime and security around Town

Some thoughts on the past year as a security consultant and observer of crime in the Baltimore area:
  • Commissioner Bealefeld and his crew deserve a lot of credit on murders and other crimes in Baltimore this past year.
  • When I was in the hot tub and my favorite gym ( and Michael Phelps's), a woman asked me: so, why is crime down this past year? My answer: I didn't know. (ha, that's an honest answer, isn't it?). But seriously, who knows? The crimes that have been reported, of course, are way down from previous years, especially murders. But why? Commish Bealefeld would say that it his strategy of "targeting bad guys with guns". Perhaps. And perhaps all these guys who used to have guns were doing other crimes too. But crime is down, generally, throughout most of the country. Is this a statistical artifact? Or is it really down, or is this just a lull in the reported numbers? Or is there an "issue in measurement?"
  • The heavy snowfall helped a lot in keeping the numbers down the first couple of months of the year. And though the department says that "similar" weather in the 95-96 winter had almost double the number of homicides, no storms compared to what we've had in the last 3 weeks could be called similar. Normally we get 18.5 inches a season of snow. This season, so far, we've had 80 inches! And some of Baltimore's biggest snow storms have been in March.
  • We're really glad to hear that the Police Commissioner is going to focus more attention on robberies. I've always thought that that is the crime that's the most important as a reflection of a city's safety. It usually occurs in public, is stranger-to-stranger, and places victims in immediate fear of serious injury or death.
  • During '09 one had to wonder, though, if burglary wasn't decriminalized in the city. Several of the private schools were broken into during the winter and lots of electronic stuff was taken. To my knowledge, no arrests were made and nothing was recovered.
  • One lawyer friend had his offices broken into, and the thuggies spent a lot of time there. They took the keys to a rental storage unit nearby where he had stuff. Fortunately, he discovered this and changed the codes. However, the security cameras captured the thieves (or their friends) as they were trying to get into the place using the wrong code at the barrier gate. They got the tag number of the car, a guy's face, and his tattoo on his arm. All this info was given to the city police: "we're too busy". They, the detectives, never followed up, no arrests were made, and no property was recovered.
  • The Rodgers Forge neighborhood in Baltimore county was hit with a wave of burglaries in the latter part of 09 (thankfully, they seemed to have stopped for the time being). They even asked yours truly if he would come and speak to them about securing their homes better. And I did: my talk at Rodgers Forge Elementary School, with 25-30 residents, lasted about an hour and a half, including question and answer session. And I got one homeowner who asked for a modest security audit out of that.
  • The weirdest thing: for more than a year I was on a yahoo listserve in a North Baltimore community reading their thoughts about crime and other suspicious things in the area near Belvedere Square. I asked to come onto the list serve, and the moderator allowed me to come on, apparently learning about my background. So, I "lurked" on the talk forum for more than a year. Neither she nor they ever asked for my thoughts about anything related to crime or any advice. I never posted. But once, on this blog, I posted something she said the police said (which sounded a bit ridiculous, but after all, she said the cops said it), and I attributed to the group without naming them directly. She kicked me off the forum for "violating the sacred confidentiality of the the yahoo talk forum"! Needless to say I was dumbfounded since I did not mention the name of the group, or anyone in it, nor did I identify even the user names they use. Nevertheless, she said I endangered the "crime-fighting effectiveness" of the group. Oh.
  • But that wasn't good enough for this mean-spirited person. Apparently, she is on several listserves/talk forums. When she saw that Rodgers Forge had invited me to speak about burglary prevention, she sent a nasty unsolicited email basically saying that I could not be trusted! They had me speak anyway.
  • The burglaries in Rodgers Forge seemed to have stopped for the time being. I've noticed a huge trend throughout the northern border of the city, along with greater Towson, Rodgers Forge, Cedarcroft, Parkville, etc. Buz wonders if burglary is now legalized.
  • The cops and firefighters have decided to sue the city to demand their full pensions as promised to them---though the city says it can't afford it and doesn't have the money. Stand by for more budget-cutting all you friends of Foxtrot and the pretty horses.
  • Note to College Park students: if, after a basketball game, you decide to go to Route 1 for some action, please go the other way when riot-equipped police are coming at you. If you get clobbered by an implement of some kind, it means you are too close to the "action". If you get arrested, no whining. You have been advised!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Twas the night before New Year's and all thru the city...........

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.