'They knew they had to do their jobs'

Police officers get to work by hook or by crook

February 09, 2010|By Peter Hermann | peter.hermann@baltsun.com

One Baltimore officer hitchhiked, jumping into an Army Humvee and then a civilian police car to tag-team his way from his Edgewood home to the city's Central District station. Motorcycle cops traded two wheels for four - four-wheel drive, that is - to keep an eye on businesses along Calvert, Charles and St. Paul streets.

Homicide detectives responded to two killings and four questionable deaths by riding shotgun in tactical vehicles. The commander of the Central District, Maj. Dennis Smith, pulled an elderly woman from a snowbank on Holabird Avenue on his way to shovel out his own family in Baltimore County.

There are stories like this all over the city and state - snowplow drivers, firefighters, doctors, to name just a few - who left their families to stay on the job and help the city through the blizzard, or who made extraordinary efforts to get to their jobs while everyone around them was trapped.

And they might do it all over again tonight and tomorrow, when even more snow is predicted.

Some police officers in the Central slept across desks or leaned in office chairs pushed against walls, grabbing a few hours of shut-eye before returning to patrol the downtown business district, neighborhoods such as Mount Vernon and Belvedere, and the Pennsylvania Avenue strip.

Police ended up with more people at work in the snowstorm than on a warm summer evening. A typical shift at the Central has two supervisors and 20 patrol officers. Friday night through the height of the storm Saturday evening, the district had four supervisors and 38 on patrol.

"Every one of them," Smith said of the officers under his command, "they all knew they had to get here. They got up and they got going, and they got in. A lot of them knew they weren't going to see their families but they knew they had to do their jobs."

Officer Dino Gregory, a 19-year veteran of the force and a former member of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne "Screaming Eagles" assault team, said he walked out of his Harford County home Saturday morning and fell into a knee-high snowdrift. That's no small drift, because at 6 feet 9 inches, Gregory is the tallest officer on the city force.

The 51-year-old called the military base at Aberdeen and a driver in an Army Humvee picked him up - he waited two hours on a street - and drove him to the Baltimore County line. From there, a county police officer in a four-wheel drive drove him to the station on East Baltimore Street. It took him five hours, and he still was two hours late.

For the next eight hours, Gregory stood in front of a downtown 7-Eleven "to make sure they didn't get robbed." When his regular shift had ended, he made up the two hours of lost time standing "in the freezing cold" at The Block on East Baltimore Street looking at the nearly deserted strip clubs, only two of which were open.

At 2 a.m., Gregory retreated to the basement locker room in the Central District station, where he stretched out on the floor, using a book bag for a pillow. He ate potato chips for dinner.

The officer and former drill sergeant said he has repeatedly insisted that his children keep appointments and be on time. "If I didn't go in, what kind of example would I be setting," Gregory said. "If I had snow shoes, I would've walked there."

On Sunday, Gregory got a ride home from a retired city homicide detective, Charles Bradley. But he didn't see his son, Dino Gregory II, score eight points in the University of Maryland basketball team's 92-71 victory over defending national champion University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

The storm turned virtually every police detective into a beat cop.

With drug corners obliterated by snow, plainclothes detectives and police assigned to keep violent crime in check put on uniforms and walked a beat. Officers were put in what's called "fixed positions," meaning they're assigned a location and ordered to stay put unless there's an emergency.

Smith said he had officers walking around stores to prevent looting - "once one person breaks into a place, it's a free-for-all" - and had the Citiwatch cameras trained on commercial areas instead of on drug corners. He said he turned what one thinks of as "patrol" into something that resembled a "security force."

Baltimore police have about 100 four-wheel drive sport-utility vehicles, and those were used to patrol or to shuttle officers back and forth from their posts to the station. Smith canceled roll call, in which every officer comes off the street until the next shift goes out, and instead shuttled new officers in National Guard Humvees to replace cops ending their shifts.

Smith said that from the moment the first flakes began to fly on Friday, he got calls from hotel managers offering rooms for free or at reduced rates, not only for police but for hospital workers, firefighters and anyone else who had to work through the storm. Smith said several of his officers took advantage of the offer.

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