RIDE ALONG

“Hey Dad, what do you think about your son now?”
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16 March 2001
Charlie Shift (4X12)
Approximately 2330 Hours
Corner of West Belvedere Avenue and Cordelia Avenue

It is coming near the end of an almost completely uneventful shift, except for the fact that on this night my dad came on a ride along with me. We spent most of the night trying to find something to get into, but the radio has been quiet. It has been raining most of the night, possibly lending to the silence on the streets. I worked hard all night to make sure that dad and I did not get held over because I knew that he had to be tired after working all day before even meeting me for the ride along. Finally, we park near the station on Linden Heights Avenue at around 2325 hours and are waiting for shift change to be called so that we can get out on time. Just as we get settled into position close enough to the station to make a beeline in at shift change, we hear Sergeant Martini, the acting lieutenant that night, on the radio:

“Charles O-Nine, I am clear of the shooting, heading into the station.”

“Ten-four.”

There had been a shooting in Sector Two at around 2200 hours tonight, and Sergeant Maartini is just now clearing up. We had driven by the scene earlier in the hopes of catching the suspect as he fled, but to no avail. I look at dad as Sergeant Maartini speaks. I know that he will be coming right past our location on his way into the station and I decide that it might not look too good if we are just sitting here doing nothing with twenty minutes to go on our shift. I mean, everyone does this, and everyone knows about it…but no Sergeant or Lieutenant wants to actually see you doing it.

“We better move.” I offer.

I turn the car over and start down the alley toward Cordelia Avenue. Just before we come out onto Cordelia Avenue, I see a man approaching the car on my side. I roll my window down and look out.

“Officer,” he starts, excited and breathless, “I just got held up by two kids with a gun but they didn’t get anything ‘cause I didn’t have any money on me. They just ran up the street when you came.”

“What were they wearing?” I ask, knowing that this was either the on-view incident that we could hang out on until shift change…or the one that would keep us here late.

“One had on a red jacket and the other had a tan jacket and jeans.” He thinks for a minute more. “The tan jacket kid had the gun.”

“OK, stay here while we look for them.” I advise.

We start south on Cordelia and I advise over the radio what had just been told to me. The dispatcher asks for another unit in the area and Charlie Thirty-One, Art Harris, answers up. We turn left onto West Garrison and as we drive westbound on Garrison, I notice that on my left is a young black male walking with his hands in his jacket pockets. His jacket is tan. My immediate thought is: keep driving. dad didn’t see this kid yet and THAT kid has the gun. Just keep driving. But I can’t do it. I turn left onto Beaufort Avenue and spin the car around to head back toward the kid. As we approach him, now on dad’s side of the car, I use the microphone to order him down.

“My man, have a seat.”

He does not comply. He simply stops walking and stands against the fence along the curb, hands still in his pockets.

“Sit down on the ground.”

The kid starts to slouch down and as I exit the patrol car, I notice that he has not sat completely on the curb. In fact, he has his knees bent under his body as if preparing to…

“There he goes!” dad shouts as he moves toward his door. (What he was thinking at this point, I’ll never know.)

The kid is up and across West Garrison in a flash. We both jump back into the car and I start following the kid. I get on the radio and call out what I have and as we drive behind him, he runs southbound onto Litchfield Avenue and then he makes the cut into the first alley on the right. As I cut the wheel and start into the alley behind the kid, almost running him down with the car, I can sense that dad fears we might not make it. He is almost right. As we jolt right, the left front fender of the patrol car grazes the chain link fence of the corner house by the alley and dents it. But we make the turn into the alley just as the kid cuts left behind the houses. He never once takes his left hand out of his jacket pocket as he runs and I know that he is hiding the gun there. I slam the car into park and throw my door open. Just before I jump out into the dark night, I turn to my father and shout as I point a finger directly in his face:

“STAY HERE!”

And then I am gone. Running for all I am worth.

“Charlie Eleven… I have a foot chase…number one male…tan jacket…blue jeans…tan boots…in the alley. Possibly armed.”

The rain makes it hard to stay on my feet, but I manage. My dad must be terrified. But I know that if he stays put, he will be safe. Besides, I left the car running…someone had to stay with it! I bolt down the alley about ten feet or so behind the kid. He never looks back as he runs, nor does he ever take his left hand out of his jacket pocket. At some point, I un-holster my Glock 17, but I am not sure exactly when I do this. All I know is that I suddenly have the gun in my right hand as I run. I can hear units calling for me to identify my whereabouts on the radio, but I am unable to process exactly which alley I am in. You see, in a foot chase, the only real thing you are able to process is where the guy you are chasing is going, and what he is doing with his hands. You always watch the hands. Sometimes you are able to relay what street you are running on, or where you are headed, but in this case, I can’t even remember what street we had just come from. Then suddenly it hits me. I know exactly where we are and exactly where we are going.

“Eleven…we’re in the alley off Litchfield, headed for Oakmont.”

Just then, we cross Oakmont Avenue and I can see that the kid is getting tired. After all, half of this chase occurred with me in the car and him running for his life. I step up my pace a notch and drive my weight into his back, throwing him face first into the ground near a fence at the corner house. As I land on top of him, I grab his jacket with my left hand, shove my left knee deep into his back and thrust my Glock against his neck.

“Show me your fucking hands!”

The kid never speaks a word. He just lays there, face down in the mud, gasping for air. I’m am not even a bit winded as I have been running for the better part of six months in the academy. The kid slowly raises his right hand in the air, but the left one never moves. He still never speaks a word, and it is his not saying anything that has me scared. Usually when someone is caught, they beg you not to lock them up, or they plead with you to let them go. And when a suspect has the barrel end of a Glock 17 9mm handgun stuck in his neck…he usually begs you not to shoot him. But this kid just lays there…panting and barely struggling against my weight. I suddenly have a flash of panic as I realize that the kid still has his hand in his damn jacket pocket, and that at any moment, he can shift his weight to his right and slam that gun against my face and pull the trigger. My wife’s face flashes across my mind… and then it is gone. My only comfort is in knowing that I have the drop on him. I already have my gun out and ready to fire into the back of his pathetic head should he choose to move to his right at all. I start to take up the slack in the trigger.

“SHOW ME YOUR FUCKING HANDS NOW!” There is no fear in my command, only urgency and authority.

Still no words escape his mouth. Wailing sirens pierce the night as ten police cars careen my way. The radio screams with the sounds of units calling for my location…but at the moment, I have my hands full. Literally.

“Look fucker, this is a REAL FUCKING GUN in your back…and if you move, I am gonna DRILL YOU! Now SHOW ME YOUR FUCKING HANDS!”

Just then, I feel movement under me…slow and to the left. The kid is trying to get rid of the gun. I hear rustling as he tries to stick the gun into the lattice fence that he is pinned against…and rather than shoot him…I let him do it. I know he is giving up and as his left hand timidly reaches toward the sky…I ease up on the trigger and holster up. I then grab the kid with both hands, lifting him off the ground and throwing him to the ground about six feet to my right, effectively moving him as far away from the gun as possible. I land on top of him again with a thump and look up toward the approaching cars.

“Where are you, Eleven?” It’s Art Harris’ voice, and he sounds scared for me.

I manage to get a hand up to the microphone on the radio: “Look in front of you.”

I can see a patrol car at the intersection of Litchfield and Oakmont Avenues, and I assume it is Harvey’s. The car speeds toward me and screeches to a halt just beside where we are on the muddy grass. Out jumps Marc Carson, my neighbor from home, and he looks right at me.

“Marc,” I shout, “get the gun…by the fence.” As I point toward the fence, we can both see the handle of the gun sticking out from the lattice. More units arrive and as I calm myself, I click back on the radio mike and call off the chase.

“Eleven, you can ten–thirty-two the location. We’ve got the gun. Everyone is alright.”

Relief must have overcome my dad at this point, but I’ll never know. Someone’s voice asks:

“Is he cuffed yet?”

In all the commotion, I hadn’t even gotten around to cuffing the kid. I was just so obsessed with getting that gun into our hands…and away from his. I think it is Tom Johnson…or maybe Marvin Colton that actually cuffs the kid…but who knows at this point? It seems like there are a hundred voices all yelling and talking at the same time. Mine rises above the crowd as I shout at the kid:

“I ALMOST SHOT YOU, YOU STUPID FUCK!”

I suddenly feel rather stupid myself for letting all this happen. My dad is sitting all alone in a dark alley, far from the safety of his home, worried to death as his only son starts running like a mad man after some gun toting kid in the rain. Colton asks where my dad is; Johnson asks as well; and I assure them that he is with the car. A voice calls out:

“Someone find Eleven’s car. His ride along is still in it.”

I am standing now and the kid is cuffed. There are units calling on the radio, searching for my patrol car…and in it…my dad.

“I got it. I know where the car is.” I say, only a little spent from all of the drama.

I grab the gun from the weeds and head back toward the car. It is at this point that I finally get a good look at the gun. It is a silver handgun, longer and lighter than my Glock, and it looks almost…plastic. It isn’t. But it also isn’t a real gun either. It is a BB gun. A Grossman Airgun to be exact, and it contains a CO2 cartridge in the grip end. I stop dead in my tracks and stand completely still as the rain falls around and on me and the realization sinks in: this kid almost lost his life over a toy gun. And he knew it all along. Why hadn’t he just chucked the gun when he saw me turn the car in his direction? Juveniles. Jesus.

I head back to the car, and as I fall back into the driver’s seat, dripping wet and emotionally spent, I drop the gun onto my clipboard that rests between the two front seats.

“There.” I state, matter-of-factly. Dad just stares at it.

“So that’s the gun, huh?” He seems impressed.

“I’m sorry…” I start, but he cuts in. I am trying to apologize for a lot of things: for scaring the hell out of him when I ran off, for making him worry, and for yelling at him to stay put. I feel really bad for yelling at him to stay in the car, but that would have to wait.

“Don’t be. I could hear you on the radio, and I knew you were okay. I could hear the other cars coming…” He seems unable to say much more, and I wonder if it is due to pride or fear. Probably a little of both.

Carson calls out for me on the radio and I advise him over the car’s P.A. that I am right around the corner from him. He approaches the driver’s side window as I back out of the alley, and I roll it down a bit. He looks in with a smile a smacks my left arm affectionately.

“Good run.”

All I can say, with a sigh of relief, is: “Fuck.” I am sure dad is irked by the comment…but I honestly don’t care at the moment.

*************************************

To the best of my recollection, my father has never, in the almost twenty-nine years (at this point) that I have been alive, ever told me face to face that he was proud of me. Oh, sure, he has given me birthday cards and Christmas cards that say how proud he is, but never face-to-face, never man-to-man. Now, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not accusing my dad of not loving me enough or anything like that, but wanting to hear him tell me that he was proud of me has been a driving factor in my life for a long time. It’s just that my dad is what some people call the “Strong Silent Type.” He rarely shares his emotions, at least with me. So when he corners me in the hallway back at the district, and he manages to choke out these words…I am stunned to say the least:

“I am proud of y…”

I think he had to stop before he broke. Not to mention the fact that several officers had just started down the hallway toward us. But he was smiling when he said it.

The next day, I call to see how dad liked his ride along experience. I again apologize for yelling at him, and try to explain my reasoning for it. He jokes again, as he had the night before, that he “doesn’t even talk to his dog that way…” and that makes me feel even worse.

But this time when he says it, I really know he means it. He doesn’t even stop himself:

“I’m proud of you.”

He even says it once more during our conversation. I find out later that he stayed up until almost two–thirty in the morning talking about his fantastic ride along. Now that is pride.

*************************************

The downside to this entire event was that I had to let the kid go free. The problem was that when we returned to the location where we had been flagged down, our victim had vanished. He was probably a junkie out to score his next fix, and the idea of sticking around with all those cop cars screaming through the streets had most likely made him nervous. So he was gone and the kid had to go free. This after two hours in the district checking his background and criminal history. Apparently, the kid had three prior arrests; two for assault with a deadly weapon and one for armed robbery; and he was only fifteen. Unfortunately, in the city of Baltimore, it is not illegal to carry a BB gun; it is only illegal to use one in the commission of a crime. And as you might have already deduced…no victim equals no crime. The deeper issue here is that the kid almost died for nothing at all. He hadn’t even gotten any money from his victim.

But at least my father expressed his pride to me. And that I will NEVER forget.

Plus, I got two hours of overtime out of it…which is, of course, the more important of the two.