Caught in the act of protecting home turf

April 12, 1997|By Rob Kasper

I HELPED the police catch a would-be burglar the other evening. Most of the drama occurred in the alley, a piece of pavement I am extremely fond of.

The story more or less begins in the alley, where I toss baseballs around with my kids. It shifts to my back yard, where I was cooking Italian sausages on the barbecue grill. It ends on the street in front my house, with the "perp" -- I can't tell you how long I have been waiting for a chance to get that abbreviation for "perpetrator" into print -- being put in handcuffs and loaded into a patrol wagon.

In addition to attempted breaking and entering, the perp committed another grievous offense. He lied about where he lived.

"Do you live here?" I asked the perp, when I saw him prowling around the back yard of the condominium that borders one side of our Bolton Hill rowhouse in downtown Baltimore.

"I live right there," the perp replied, pointing to the first-floor condo.

I knew he was lying. I had never seen him in our alley. Like many rowhouse families, my sons and I spend a fair amount of our leisure time in the alley. We toss baseballs to each other in the warm months, footballs in the cold ones. Sometimes the kids bounce lacrosse balls off the neighbors' cars. When you do that, you get to know your neighbors, your fellow alley dwellers. And this guy wasn't one of them.

While my brain reacted to the perp's lie by saying "nuh-unh," my mouth voiced another reply. "OK," I said with a tone of fake sincerity, "sorry to bother you."

The perp bought my act. I resumed my original back yard duty, flipping the Italian sausages. Meanwhile, the perp hurried out of the neighboring back yard and headed up the alley. I watched him. When he disappeared by the apartment building's trash cans, I suspected he was up to no good.

I was familiar with those trash cans. Stray balls had hit them many times. I knew that behind those trash cans was a back yard gate, a gate that was often unlocked. I figured the perp had sneaked through the open gate and was looking for new criminal opportunities.

High-tailing it back inside our house, I asked my wife to call the police. Then I hurried back outside to the alley to wait for a police squad car to arrive.

I could see that down on the next block, a car was headed for our stretch of alley. But it wasn't a police car. Moreover, it wasn't a car that usually drove down our alley.

Alley athletes classify cars into two categories, "turning cars," and "straight-ahead cars." Turning cars approach your alley, but change direction before they reach your stretch of pavement. Turning cars do not disturb an alley game. Straight-ahead cars, however, travel right down your alley, requiring that you temporarily stop the game. Veteran alley athletes can spot a straight-ahead car a block or two away. Many of the straight-ahead cars belong to people who live on your block.

This particular straight-ahead car, however, did not look familiar to me. As it rolled down the alley I saw that a Baltimore City policeman, Douglas L. Patterson, was a passenger in it. As luck would have it, this car was being driven by a member of a neighborhood watch group, Citizens on Patrol, folks who use their cars to drive city policemen around the neighborhood.

I flagged this straight-ahead car down. After hearing my story about the prowler, Officer Patterson jumped out of the car and pursued the perp. The perp had been seen climbing over a brick wall that separated two back yards. Officer Patterson vaulted the wall too.

I waited for a while in the alley. Eventually, I walked around to the street, where I saw Officer Patterson had the perp in handcuffs. Officer Patterson had found the perp, along with a handful of tools, at the rear door of an apartment building. The policeman had cuffed the perp and escorted him to the front of the building, where the police wagon waited.

As the wagon swallowed the perp, I felt alley proud, a protector of my home turf. But later I was taken down a notch or two.

It seemed that, in the thick of the action, I had given the police the wrong name of the alley. The correct name is Brevard. For some reason I had called it Jenkins, a mistake that caused some responding cruisers to initially go to the wrong spot. Mostly I know it as "our alley," the place where my kids and I play catch, wave at neighbors and stare at strangers.

Pub Date: 4/12/97

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