When Columbia accountant Stuart Goldman thinks of Christmases past, what comes to mind are wailing sirens, traffic accidents and domestic disputes.
Yesterday was no different: Mr. Goldman ended up spending the holiday at the local police station, along with several friends.
He was happy about it. So were the police in Howard and Baltimore counties: When Mr. Goldman and his pals are there, a few grateful officers get Christmas Day off.
Each year for the past decade and a half, Mr. Goldman and other members of the Jewish service organization B'nai B'rith Columbia Lodge have volunteered to answer the phones to handle non-emergency calls for police, fire and 911 operators in Howard County. Baltimore County B'nai B'rith members perform a similar service in police stations there.
"Maybe we're just frustrated policemen," Mr. Goldman said yesterday with a laugh.
"We do a lot of community service, and this is a bit different. The guys really enjoy it," Mr. Goldman said.
Mr. Goldman was in the station by 8 a.m. and worked until noon. In other years, he's happily worked the "graveyard" shift of midnight to 8 a.m.
Yesterday was relatively quiet, he said. Most of the calls he fielded were from motorists asking for open gas stations, or for directions.
But in other years, there have been Christmases in which drivers were involved in fatal accidents, and holiday households that erupted in violent family disputes.
"People always get together for the holidays and fight," he said with a laugh.
When a call comes in, Mr. Goldman or one of the other volunteers takes it and then routes the information to a police dispatcher, who then sends out an officer.
"They've been a great, great help, even though this has been a very quiet day," said dispatcher Linda Burley, acting supervisor at Howard County police headquarters yesterday afternoon.
She said that two officers on her shift alone were able to take the day off because of the help from the volunteers.
In Towson yesterday, Sonny Davis didn't let the small matter of his 56th birthday stop him from going to county police headquarters to offer his services, along with other members of the Baltimore County branch of B'nai B'rith.
Yet Mr. Davis, a commercial flooring contractor, said he was surprised by the upbeat attitude of the officers who were working the holiday.
"I know they probably wish they could be home with their families, but none of them ever complain out loud about working," he said.
"So, the least we can do is try to make their day run as smooth as possible."
Mr. Davis, a police fan who has volunteered at various Baltimore County precincts for seven years, said, "They do a lot of good work, but the only thing people ever hear about is the bad. So this is my way of saying thanks."
According to Mr. Davis, B'nai B'rith members began manning their volunteer posts at 4 p.m. Christmas Eve. Members worked four-hour shifts until 8 p.m. yesterday, he said.
He began his four-hour shift at 8 a.m. and said yesterday was peaceful compared to last year, when he worked on Christmas Eve and a riot almost erupted in a Woodlawn-area mall.
"A guy was shoplifting. He got into a fight with someone else, and soon lots of other people joined in," he said. "At that point, I moved into the background and let the pros handle the situation."