Talk to Baltimore residents, and most say they want more police — and they don't mean speeding by in their cars from one call to the next. They want their neighborhood beat officer back, and they want him walking his post.
But under the adage that too much of a good thing isn't always a good thing, some business owners along Greenmount Avenue see a flood of officers as an obstacle to their profits. Their patrons aren't always the type of people to embrace police, and too many officers can translate into fewer customers.
Mir Khalid, the manager of the BP service station at Greenmount and East 33rd Street, would rather have one officer standing on the corner than a clump standing at his entranceway. On most nights, a police car sits on his lot with its red and blue lights flashing.
Police, Khalid said, "help in a good and in a bad way."
Baltimore Police Sgt. Dennis M. Raftery sees it differently, as do business owners who are trying to make a go of restaurants, one of which counts swimmer Michael Phelps as a regular and another that has made Baltimore Magazine's Top 50 list.
Their owners have complained that more police are needed for their businesses to draw patrons from other parts of the city and the suburbs who are too scared to come to Waverly. Raftery tried to drill that point home, saying of the bad guys, "You lose their business, but you get better business."
That was part of the give and take Wednesday between police and the business owners of Greenmount Avenue in Waverly as the department sent 30 extra police officers walking up and down the busy corridor.
The officers came from the police academy, where they are going through what is called Diamond Training, part of an effort to improve their midcareer skills. Wednesday's one-day deployment was essentially their class project, and they chose Greenmount because it's in their district, Northern, and because of recent problems along the strip.
In April, a 72-year-old security guard at the Afro American newspaper was shot and killed in a carryout while getting his meal for the night shift. Police said he was a bystander in a robbery committed by two teens who got just $13. Two days later, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, a 22-year-old man was shot and killed at the parking lot of another gas station across the street from Khalid's BP.
A week later, Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and other city officials marched down Greenmount in a show of solidarity.
On Wednesday came the show of force.
Bealefeld met the 30 officers in a supermarket parking lot and gave them their marching orders. Later, he said he wanted to "let them know how visible and important this little stretch is in terms of this crime fight ... and to reaffirm to the people that we've got their back and we're going to make them safe."
He said the officers "picked a key spot to rally the people's attention."
The display also gets attention as the Police Department grapples with a budget shortfall that, unless the City Council approves more taxes and fees, could mean laying off at least 250 officers and grounding the helicopter unit. Police commanders are privately expressing concern about morale, especially as they deal with a spurt of violence that left 10 people dead in four days starting Saturday.
Bealefeld said his officers can work despite the distractions.
"It's like lamenting the officiating of a game," the commissioner said. "Athletes play the damn game. Stop complaining about the officiating. I can't control the officiating, and I'm going to work my ass off to make sure these cops get their money and make sure they get the proper due for their retirements, and I'm going to lobby the people I need to lobby to make sure that it's done.
"But at the end of the day, we need to be focused on public safety," Bealefeld continued. "Who cares if I feel good? Nobody cares if our morale is up or down. They just want to be safe."
It fell on Raftery to give the troops their mission.
"Get information from the people in these businesses," he told them. "Get information from people on the street. What are your problems? What can we do for you?"
At the Osprey Gas Station on East 33rd, cashier Rishab Kharel showed Raftery his surveillance cameras and told him his biggest problem is vagrants. In six years, he said he'd never been held up, but he noted the man shot in April "got killed in my parking lot."
He also noted that patrons seem less likely to come to his gas station when the police are around.
"Do you want drugs or people buying things?" Raftery asked him. "That's what you have tell the police. You have to get rid of crime so people come."
Kharel answered: "Of course I want more police."
On Wednesday, he and others on beleaguered Greenmount got them.