Police commanders brush up on arrests

Top officers ordered to take to streets in search of crime

March 03, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel sent his 28 top commanders back to basics recently, ordering them to replace crime reports with handcuffs by solving a crime or making an arrest.

Many of them found they needed a little help.

Baltimore police Maj. Odis L. Sistrunk Jr. had not arrested anyone since 1979. So the 6-foot-6-inch, 280-pound chief of the Human Resources Department did what many of his command staff peers did after Daniel, at a meeting Feb. 10, ordered them to solve a crime within a week.

Sistrunk went to one of the city's drug-tainted neighborhoods and waited for a younger officer to reel him in a criminal. The officer entered a vacant building on Feb. 11, observed a man with suspected marijuana and called Sistrunk, who was waiting in a police van outside.

Sistrunk made the collar.

"It was not difficult," Sistrunk said. "Really, I was looking [forward to] the experience, but I knew I had to make an arrest."

Most commanders made the arrests, wrote the reports, booked the suspects and will follow up with court appearances.

They also submitted typed reports to Daniel on their experience, some gloating about how they handled their brief tour of duty on Baltimore streets.

Besides boosting the commanders' pride, Daniel said he believes the exercise improved the morale of patrol officers who battle street-level crime every day.

"If the managers can go out and make arrests, that inspires the troops to go out and do their job," Daniel said.

"When you become a manager and you have not been involved in [patrol] for 10 or 15 years, you lose touch," Daniel said. "It shows the troops this is an engagement and battle all of us need to be in."

District, operations and administrative commanders arrested more than three dozen people on drug charges, recovered six stolen mopeds, served three outstanding warrants and made two sex crime arrests.

Maj. Errol L. Dutton, director of the Employment Opportunity Compliance Division, spent 45 minutes disguised as a member of a drug dealing crew at Park Heights and Shirley avenues.

Nicknamed "Pops" during the Feb. 14 reverse-sting operation, he would run to a make-believe stash in an alley when buyers asked for drugs. Other officers arrested the buyers.

Odor of marijuana

Maj. Elmer Dennis, acting chief of the Patrol Division, was patrolling Feb. 11 with the Southern District Drug Enforcement Unit when he spotted a male smoking what looked like a cigar but had "the distinct odor of marijuana smoke."

Dennis recovered the discarded blunt -- a street term for marijuana rolled in cigar paper. Erick Bryant, 18, was charged with possession of suspected marijuana.

`Running in all directions'

Capt. Gerard Busnuk, of the Community Resource Bureau, was patrolling Feb. 14 with an officer in an unmarked car when they approached the corner of North Avenue and Dukeland Street.

"I saw people running in all directions, some with money in their hands," Busnuk wrote in his report to Daniel. "I focused on two white males running down the sidewalk who were attempting to leave the area by jumping into a car. I blocked their car in so that they could not move out of their parking spot."

Maj. Elfago Moye of the Community Resource Bureau was patrolling in Southwest Baltimore on Feb. 15 when she received a call that a man had fondled a girl in the Edmondson Deli & Carryout at 3700 Edmondson Ave. After the 13-year-old victim identified a suspect, Moye arrested and charged Damon Evans, 20, with fourth-degree sex offense and assault.

Missions completed -- or so they thought.

Staying involved

Daniel said the arrests are just the beginning, and he has instructed his command staff to be more visible on the streets. He stressed in an interview last week that the days of majors, captains or colonels failing to intervene when they see a street crime are over.

"We are all law enforcement officers," said Daniel, who has participated in two drug arrests since becoming commissioner in January. "You cannot drive from one end of this city to another without seeing some type of criminal activity with a trained eye."

Some commanders admitted the exercise helped retool their crime-fighting senses.

"I noticed the young officers out there initially, for the first hour, they were seeing more than I was," said Maj. Mike Bass, acting Public Information Director and former director of the Police Athletic League. "But the old skills came back, and juices were flowing again."

Bass, who made his first arrest in about five years when he arrested a man in the 2000 block of Barclay St. on drug charges, had to learn the new online booking system, where officers file charges on a district computer.

`Humbling' experience

"I think it was a rather humbling for me to use the booking computer and have a young officer sitting beside me walking me through the steps," Bass said. "When I was making arrests [years ago], everything was done by hand. There was no technology."

Daniel said if some commanders were briefly dumbfounded, they will be awed by their interaction with the clogged court system.

Some will spend days at a district court waiting for the judge to hear a case. Others might watch their arrests thrown out by a judge who determines there is a lack evidence or shoddy arrest practices. Still others might experience aggressive cross-examination by a defense attorney.

The commanders, who say they are ready for the court challenge, applauded the exercise for its education value and because it signals department priorities are reverting to hard-edged crime fighting.

"The message it sends is we are all in this stuff together," said Maj. Mike Tomczak, Northeast District Commander. "It says Daniel's focus is, `We need to get back to the basics.' "

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