Three hours into his shift, the Baltimore police officer has already responded to a dozen emergency calls stretched across 6.3 square miles of city real estate, one patrol car covering an expanse designed for three.
Residents are calling 911 and not getting help. Calls are piling up. "We're a poor city, I understand that," the officer tells me. "But just give us the basics."
Police brass won't acknowledge it, but officers on the street say that there are not enough of them to fill their patrol cars, a situation that they say leaves residents unprotected. On an evening this week, one officer took me along for a first-hand look at the problem.
Three hours into his shift, a dispatcher tells the veteran officer that five calls are pending. Exasperated, he answers, "Give me the most important one first," and speeds off in a cruiser borrowed from a supervisor, one headlight out and a rattling suspension, to respond to a complaint about a woman beating her teenage daughter.
He has yet to drive through the neighborhood to which he's assigned, where he's supposed to park, walk around, get to know the residents, check on businesses, stop in at the rec center, clear loiterers off the corners and prevent crime.
"Don't you think the people who live there deserve to have a cop drive by their homes every five hours or so?" the officer asks.
Department commanders insist they are just a handful of officers short of being fully-staffed at 3,071.
But that number counts those unavailable or unable to work because of extended sick or injury leave, on military duty and on suspension. Compounding the problem are so-called "ghost-shifts" of officers moved to replace entire platoons spending a month at a time in training.
In many ways, arguments over staffing between rank-and-file workers and their bosses are nothing new. The police union has always wanted more, and commanders have always had to say there are enough resources if managed wisely.
The officer I rode with told me that 14 officers were available to hit the streets out of a full complement of 18 that day. Two were brought in on overtime, bringing the number up to 16, but one was sent on a special detail and the other had to work the front desk.
Of the 14 left, two were tied up at incidents that ate up half the shift, including one who had to guard an intersection for hours waiting for a work crew from another city agency to show up. That meant that for four hours, only 12 officers patrolled the district - two-thirds of a full complement - often putting backup miles and precious minutes away. It was, he said, a typical evening.
By the time my officer got to a call for a man who tried to stuff dozens of drink cans into his coat at a convenience store, the wrestling match with the clerk had ended and the suspect was long gone.
The officer invited me out to show how he felt a "fully staffed" department had plenty of staffing left to do. Frustrated, he risked his career to put a reporter in his patrol car without authorization from commanders, who when they discovered the trip launched a department-wide inquiry to learn the officer's name.
The Baltimore Sun is withholding the name of the officer, his district and some details of crimes to protect his identity.
The department has refused repeated requests to allow reporters into the field, insisting they be accompanied by a member of the public relations staff. One sanctioned ride-along turned out to be nothing more than hours spent patrolling the downtown business district as it was emptying out for an evening commute. District commanders have repeatedly asked me to accompany them so they can show what they are doing to fight crime, but their bosses have shut down or simply ignored those requests.
The department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, told me in an e-mail that the "bottom line is that we have more cops on the streets now than in years past." He said 14 vacancies will be filled when the next academy class begins May 29. That is an improvement from 2005 when city police had 149 openings and more than 100 vacancies in 2006 and 2007.
Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III has put resources into operation units, such as a task force responsible for targeting guns and violent offenders in three of the most crime-ridden districts, which the department says is partly responsible for last year's 20-year low homicide count (the number of killings is up this year).
Guglielmi said there are 130 more officers assigned to what he described as "operational roles" than last year, but he also said the patrol division "has seen the greatest gains. ... In other words, over the past year, we've put more cops out on the streets of Baltimore. These officers are patrolling our neighborhoods, getting illegal guns off the streets and investigating homicides, shootings and robberies."