Two female city police officers were injured yesterday evening after at least one assailant with a gun opened fire on their marked cruiser in Southeast Baltimore. One was in surgery last night at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Loretta L. Francis, 34, a member of the force for 14 years, and Karen Brzowsky, 29, an officer for five years, were driving north on North Port Street about 6:30 p.m. and approaching Orleans Street when "several gunshots rang out and struck their vehicle," according to acting police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.
Bealefeld, speaking at a news conference near Shock Trauma, said detectives were interviewing "several possible witnesses" last night, and the department's SWAT team had entered two houses on the block where the officers were shot.
"We have dispatched every available resource," Bealefeld said. "I'm optimistic we will have some resolution to the case."
About 10:30 last night, police stopped a silver-colored 1995 Buick LeSabre in the 300 block W. Baltimore St. The vehicle matched a description broadcast shortly after the shooting by radio dispatchers. The driver was taken to police headquarters for questioning, and the car towed there for examination.
A source close to the investigation - who is not named because the source is not permitted to talk to the media - said the two officers were responding to a call of men gambling in or near the 200 block of N. Port St. when they were shot.
The source said that as the officers drove up, a gunman approached the police car on the driver's side and began shooting, hitting both officers. Several men at the scene fled.
Bealefeld would not confirm they were responding to a call, but acknowledged that the officers were driving north on Port Street about 6:30 p.m. and approaching the intersection with Orleans Street when the gunfire began.
Bullets shattered the driver's window, hitting Brzowsky in the upper arm and her partner, Francis, in the stomach, below the area protected by her bullet-resistant vest.
After she was struck, Brzowsky drove the patrol car to Orleans Street and then issued a distress call, Bealefeld said. Neither officer was able to return fire, police said.
"The driver showed incredible bravery and relied on her training," Bealefeld said.
"Cops are going where the trouble is," the acting commissioner said. "The officers are not going to retreat. They were where we asked them to be."
Brzowsky, a member of the Police Department honor guard, was in serious but stable condition at Shock Trauma and was undergoing surgery. Francis was in fair condition. She was expected to be released last night.
Bealefeld said it was too early to know why the officers were shot, whether they were targeted or how many shooters fired.
Mayor Sheila Dixon, who met with the officers and their families, said, "Their spirits are great. They are ready to go back out."
Dixon added: "What it says is that we have to be diligent, and we need to stay focused on getting these illegal guns off our streets."
Paul M. Blair Jr., the president of the city's police union, said the shootings "prove how dangerous this job is." He added: "Whoever believes this city is safe doesn't go out on the streets."
Homicides and shootings are on the upswing in the city. So far this year 182 people have been killed, an increase from 160 at the same time last year. As of yesterday there were 445 nonfatal shootings, up from 338 last year.
The officers are assigned to the Southeastern District, an area that includes Patterson Park. The area has seen a 57 percent increase in homicides and a 30 percent increase in shootings in June over the same month last year, according to police statistics.
Within moments of the shooting, the surrounding streets filled with uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives racing to the aid of their wounded comrades.
Police set up perimeters as the crew of a police helicopter flew above the scene trying to locate any suspects who might be fleeing the area.
Fire Department ambulances arrived moments later, and after treating the wounded officers at the scene, were given police escorts to Shock Trauma. Major intersections from the shooting scene to the hospital were blocked by marked police cars to hasten the trip to the hospital by the ambulances.
Members of the police Quick Response Team rushed to the scene, along with K-9 officers and police from the adjacent Eastern District.
While police investigated the double shooting and took witnesses to police headquarters for interviews, several residents of the area found themselves cut off from their homes by yellow police crime-scene tape or police cars.
Roadblocks were set up for some six blocks on either side of where the shooting occurred.
John Williams, 23, of the 200 block of N. Port St. said he was on his way home about 6:30 p.m. when he was forced to stop near Orleans Street and Montford Avenue.
"I can't even get home," said Williams. He eventually found a back route to his house.
The last city officer to be attacked in the line of duty was officer Troy L. Chesley Sr., who was fatally shot in January by a man in an apparent botched robbery in Northwest Baltimore.