There was a report of a domestic disturbance in Pigtown one Friday evening, just a few doors south of the Cockeyed Cow Saloon.
While waiting for a sergeant, Officer Familia demonstrates just how much pressure to apply to the button on Officer Santiago’s body camera. It takes more than a tap.
A woman, agitated after being called “disorderly” by an officer on the scene, is asked to demonstrate the blow that demanded police presence. She commits fully. Seizing her face in one hand, she throws her head back violently.
The sergeant hasn’t arrived yet, but Acting-Captain Monique A. Brown has.
On this tour through Baltimore’s Southern District, it’s been all about picking battles, she says. This is her first direct intervention of the evening.
“Sometimes you find people at a crisis moment,” says Brown. “Regardless of whatever their issue may be, you can find them in some injured capacity or just find them at a frustrating capacity.”
“Sometimes, it’s not trying to fix anything at all, but just having a conversation.”
The Baltimore City Police’s Southern District measures just under 13 square miles in area, making it one of the largest of the city’s nine districts. But that doesn’t take into account the great waterway that is one of its defining characteristics. Shaped by the banks of the Patapsco River, and places like Curtis Bay, Inner Harbor and Silo Point, there are few straight shots from point A to point B.
Brown says the Southern District’s defining characteristic is its diversity. Compared to other districts, Brown says, the Southern covers the whole spectrum of income and a more even distribution of races and ethnicities than other areas of the city. Moreover, it encompasses the breadth of architecture found across the city. Silos, water towers and tanks of natural gas dominate in Curtis Bay; city landmarks M&T Bank Stadium and Camden Yards; and the brownstones of Hollins Market and public housing projects of Cherry Hill.
Before heading out, Brown rolls out a map of the district and points out areas of focus: Brooklyn and the Tri-District, the latter being where the limits of the Southern, Southwestern, and Western Districts meet. During their shift, officers will keep a lookout for youths responsible for an uptick in violent crime in Brooklyn.
Burglaries are up, according to Baltimore City crime statistics. So is auto theft, including carjackings. The rash of car thefts and burglaries are part of a process: steal the car, use it to move burglarized property, then sell the car, Brown says.
“On our radar,” Brown adds, are a dozen or so suspects that have been arrested in relation to similar crimes in the past.
Brown patrols in an unmarked car, and the disguise is generally convincing. Jaywalkers tow their daughters across the street inches from Brown’s bumper. Helmetless cyclers whip by up Bunche Road. Most seem generally oblivious. Brown lets all of this go.
But when she rolls slowly into eastern extremes of Brooklyn, somebody knows. Outside the car and out of sight someone calls out and groups of people further down the street freeze. Their conversations drop immediately and all turn and fix their gazes on the car. Jaws go slack, but nobody runs.
Acting-Captain Brown, 42, has been at her new post a little over four weeks. While not regularly on patrol, she sometimes takes to the streets to ensure her officers remain “visible and proactive,” she says.
For Brown, dropping in on officers on a call is also a way to say “hey, I have your back, I’m in your corner.”
Brown, now a grandmother, grew up in the Eastern District and attended Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School. Before recent revitalization efforts, she and her neighbors called the area “little Beirut.” She originally wanted to be a lawyer, but after having children, joined the police force.
For her first eight years she served the neighboring Southwestern District. She’s worked on district-level internal affairs, and made detective with warrant apprehensions. From there, she joined the child abuse unit; after two years, she was promoted to lieutenant in the Northwest District.
Back at the Cockeyed Cow Saloon, the conversation is over and the domestic disturbance settled. The officers take a report and a few pictures. The alleged assailant is driven away. Officers will be filing charges on behalf of the assailed, but it will be up to her to follow through.
Heading south again, back to the station in Cherry Hill, Brown stops as a pick-up truck slowly backs its way into a garage. Its bed is overloaded with hoods, fenders and bumpers. Car parts.
This, along with the rows of dusty, rusting bodies filling the shop parking lot, makes Brown think that the garage is overwhelmed with new business—a spike falling alongside the spike in auto theft. She won’t stop tonight, but she says she will be sending officers to check on where these cars are coming from.
Her first trip today has taken her from the eastern limit of Curtis Bay around the harbor to Silo Point. It takes two hours, with eight more to go before the shift ends.