On patrol in New York

Police: Volunteers help New York's weary officers and reassure tourists on Broadway.

October 05, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

A group of tourists from California spots four police officers standing in Times Square. Lugging cameras and shopping bags, they sprint across the concrete median to ask if they can take a picture of "New York's finest."

"You'll have to take a picture of them," says Cpl. Michele Pugliese, pointing to a couple of New York police officers a block away. "We're from Maryland."

"Maryland's finest will do," one of the tourists replies, snapping a picture.

Pugliese is one of about 50 officers from the Anne Arundel County Police Department who volunteered to go to New York to relieve a police force fatigued from three weeks of unrelenting 12-hour shifts. Anne Arundel County police happily assumed posts so that their colleagues from the NYPD could have a night off with their families.

For the first of three Anne Arundel County contingents to New York, the mission meant getting up before dawn, leaving their families for three nights and staying up nearly around the clock. In New York, they would get a look at the site of the attacks, and officers accustomed to patrolling dozens of square miles on a shift would find themselves walking one-block beats in Times Square.

They left home not knowing what they would see and do - all in a span of 20 hours.

5:30 a.m. Wednesday

A lieutenant, two sergeants and 15 officers awake and pack their bags. Officer Ken Trader kisses his wife, 4-year-old daughter and twin 18-month-old boys. Pugliese, a 22-year veteran of the county force, checks on her sleeping 8-year-old son.

They pull away from houses in Reisterstown, Pasadena and Annapolis and head for county police headquarters in Millersville.

7 a.m.

A crowd of reporters and county officials are waiting when the officers arrive.

Some officers are nervous. Many say they haven't been to New York for years. But, says Sgt. Bret Ballam, "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Officer Michelle Mangold has given money to the relief effort. She has given blood. Now she's ready to serve.

Chief P. Thomas Shanahan stands with the officers to salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance.

The caravan of police cruisers pulls onto Veterans Highway and heads north toward Interstate 95.

Noon

They make good time. They enter the city through the Holland Tunnel, which is open only to emergency crews. They are escorted by Port Authority police to a command post in lower Manhattan.

The devastation is immediately visible: chunks of metal being loaded on barges and shipped out.

"These huge steel beams were twisted like pretzels," Mangold says. "It was like they were made from tin foil."

Their escort leads them to another command post, one block from what remains of the World Trade Center.

Dust and white powder are everywhere. The air smells metallic - "almost like the odor of burning wires," robbery Detective Jeffrey Silverman says.

He says he is starting to feel the "burn."

"It's a tingling sensation," he says. "It's like how your hands feel after firing practice, from the gunpowder. Your nose burns."

But it turns out they'd been led to the wrong post. They're supposed to receive their assignments for the night at the Javits Civic Center. They turn around and head up the West Side Highway.

1 p.m.

One hour and 20 blocks later, the Marylanders find themselves near a group of New Yorkers who have set up a vigil to cheer on rescue crews and police officers. They wave flags, hold posters that say, "You're our heroes." They yell thank-yous to each passing police car, ambulance and firetruck.

"Thank you, Maryland!" shouts someone who spots the Anne Arundel County officers.

"It's incredible," says Lt. Mark Morgan. "But we're just here to help. The New York police and fire, the Port Authority officers, they're the ones who are heroes.

"We haven't even done anything yet."

2 p.m.

The county officers make their way to three hotels that have donated rooms for the volunteer police and rescuers. Several officers check in at the Novotel near Times Square. A few have rooms at the Mayflower on Central Park West. The lucky ones are staying at the Sherry Netherland, the hotel of choice for celebrities such as Madonna and Diana Ross.

The hotel has marble baths. Champagne, Godiva chocolate and fruit baskets with thank-you notes await the officers.

A valet offers to park their patrol cars.

3 p.m.

The officers put on bulletproof vests. In their starched navy shirts, ties and pants and shiny black shoes, they could pass for New York cops if not for the Anne Arundel County shoulder patch.

They head to the Javits Center and park their patrol cars next to officers from Connecticut, Alabama and Florida.

By now, it's hit Morgan: The last time he was in New York City, he was 12, and the Empire State Building was the city's tallest skyscraper. It is once again.

5:30 p.m.

At the Midtown North precinct station, the county officers stand at attention with more than 60 New York officers and receive their orders.

One group will work security at the premiere of the movie Serendipity. The others are going to Times Square.

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