Officer's shooting draws police family even closer SHATTERED SECURITY


September 21, 1992|By David Simon | David Simon,Staff Writer

They were traveling in twos and threes in Baltimore's Western District yesterday, small caravans of radio cars gliding from call to call as if they could somehow ensure that no cop would ever again have a moment of terror all to himself.

An assault call from Edmondson Avenue got three cars. The report of a man with a gun on Warwick brought seven cars and a patrol wagon. A drug shooting on Carrollton brought half the district to chase the suspect through the alleys along West Baltimore Street.

The radio was cluttered with assist calls.

"I'm a block away from there," said Charlie 21 unit, picking up on the shooting. "I'll take the back-up."

"Charlie 24. I'm going, too."

"Charlie 22 responding."

On the day after a Western officer was shot in the head with his own gun while handling a domestic call, the people of West Baltimore saw one tribe, one single entity policing their streets, but then, it always used to be that way.

In Baltimore not long ago, city police used to tell themselves that they were the biggest, toughest gang in town and if you messed with one, you messed with all. No one with any time on the street talks that way anymore. They are still family, of course -- police are always that to each other -- but there are too few of them now and too many calls. Sometimes, the backups come late, sometimes they don't come.

Yesterday, the Western patrol force tried to pretend it wasn't so. They traveled and worked and fought like a gang again, and if that made them slower to radio calls, then that was how it had to be.

"No one is going to be on their own today," said Terry Hendrickson. "No one."

To Officer Hendrickson, more than anyone, this was almost a mantra. It was his voice that the other Western officers heard on their radios Saturday morning, shouting at his friend, telling Ira Weiner to "wait for your backup, wait for your backup."

But Terry Hendrickson got to West Mulberry Street only in time to hear the gunshots that claimed Ira Weiner's life.

At yesterday's roll call, he spoke of that moment to the rest of his shift, his voice trembling for a moment, then growing louder in conviction and anger.

"I know, I know that everyone's saying why didn't he wait for his backup," Officer Hendrickson said. But it wasn't as simple as that, he told them. Out on the street, it's never as simple as that.

"Ira wanted to wait, but the woman who gave him the key to that house told him that there were children inside and he could hear the children crying," said Officer Hendrickson, his fist pounding the podium for emphasis. "Ira heard those children and decided he needed to be inside that house."

He paused for a moment, his voice strained.

"And I know that everyone in this room would have done the same f ,'thing."

Did they believe it? Hard to say. There's this peculiar need for police to believe that when one of them loses, it's because he did something wrong, because some small bit of wisdom or procedure was overlooked. To admit the opposite -- that sometimes the bad things simply happen -- is, after all, much more frightening.

At that afternoon roll call, Officer Weiner's shift also listened to words of faith delivered by their police commissioner and by his deputy, who little more than one year ago had been the district commander and had known the officer who died earlier today at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"I start every day by saying I'm happy to be here," Lt. Otis Sistrunk concluded. "I'm still happy to be here. I say every day that we are a family and I still say we are a family."

On the street yesterday, they proved that much. A car stop of some New Yorkers on Gilmor got three cars. A domestic complaint on Edmondson brought four. When one of the sector's three radio cars came up lame behind an elementary school with a flat tire, three others pulled in behind it and the group settled in while Bob Brown began fixing Sean Branford's cruiser.

A minor traffic call on Reisterstown went out on the radio; but no one jumped.

"You know this job can be fun," said Sean Branford, watching Officer Brown raise the tire jack. "I mean with all the good times and the kidding around among the guys, you forget how stuff can happen. You need something like yesterday to remind you."

And at that moment, it was fun. At that moment, Officer Brown finished lowering the cruiser, keyed his radio mike and told the Western dispatcher that Baker 34 car -- Officer Branford's unit -- could handle that accident call.

"10-4," said the dispatcher.

Officer Branford shook his head. "Thanks a lot, Bobby."

But all of them were laughing after Sean Branford keyed his own mike: "Baker 34. I'm still stranded here with that flat tire."

Officer Brown, too, wouldn't quit: "Ah, this is Baker 36. I just fixed Baker 34's tire."

And then the dispatcher was also laughing, asking who was going to handle the accident. But no one could answer before a fresh call went out: Man with a gun on Warwick, west side of the 1700 block.

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