Not every police call can be like the show “Cops.”
Even in a city seemingly defined by crime, a typical shift with a typical police officer can be as typical as the commercial break.
And so on Friday, when Ray Syzmczak of Medfield joined residents from across the city and climbed into a patrol car, he had no expectation of having a wild night. The major in charge of the Northern District, Ross Buzzuro, told residents they were about to have a “unique experience” and that he hoped “it will not only be educational but interesting.”
He left out the word exciting.
And at first, Syzmczak’s shift with Officer Bexley Collins seemed to be living up to all of the boss’ expectations.
The first call took them to a residential street for a man complaining that his landlord wanted to kick him out. But before the man could utter a single word, Collins’ radio buzzed with a far more urgent matter. A woman reported that men had just broken into her neighbor’s house on Loyola Southway and were at that moment sitting in a red car in the back alley.
In an instant, Syzmczak would see a man arrested at gunpoint, a police chase and a scuffle in which another suspect got away. All on one call.
“I was a little surprised to see this much in literally the first three minutes,” he said.
Friday night’s community ride-along was the second time since this summer that the Baltimore Police Department has put a citizen in every patrol car in every part of the city. It’s part of the commissioner’s attempt to not only help residents understand how cops work and what they do, but to help them feel a part of the crime-fighting team. It’s important in a city where it seems few trust the police and crime dominates the discussion.
The Northern District police station serves residents who live in roughly 50 neighborhoods that stretch from Charles Village to the county line and from the York Road corridor to parts of Park Heights. The officers patrol some of the city’s wealthiest and some of the city’s poorest communities, and one of the biggest urban retreats, Druid Hill Park, and the neighborhood with one of the nation’s top universities, Johns Hopkins.
Before the folks who signed up to team with a cop hit the streets of the Northern, they pored over maps of the district. Some wanted to patrol their own neighborhoods, others saw it as an opportunity to see new parts of the city. Syzmczak simply chose a spot at random.
Collins, who had joined the city force in 2001, left and then returned four years ago, got the call for the burglary and sped to Loyola Southway through alleys, careful to not use his siren to avoid tipping off the culprits. He pulled up behind the red car in a narrow, trashy alley and certainly took the four occupants by surprise.
Two jumped out of the Ford Taurus. Collins tried to grab one. He broke free and the officer, his gun drawn, ordered him to the ground. They scuffled as Syzmczak stayed in the front seat of the squad car, his view now blocked by the red car in front. All of a sudden, the suspect popped into view and ran by the police car and down the alley, with Collins running behind. Meanwhile, another officer arrested the other man farther up the alley.
In the commotion, a third man got out of the Taurus, paused to make sure no one was after him, uttered a profanity and took off. A fourth man, the driver, sat patiently in the car until Officer Timothy Coufal came over and ordered him out at gunpoint. Collins then returned, but without the man he had been chasing.
By now, it seemed half the district was in the alley, including a supervisor, Lt. Joseph A. Orem, and detectives who took over the investigation. “The cavalry is now on the scene,” Syzmczak said.
The driver of the Ford told Collins that he had rented the red car in his name and that the others had forced him to drive to the house so they could break in. “I have no problem testifying against them,” he said as officers put handcuffs on him. “It makes no difference to me.”
So much for witness intimidation.
The man did stay in the car until police came to get him, even though he had plenty of time to get out and get away. But the car had no rental sticker and a glance inside showed it to be well lived-in, with old cigarette butts, a supersized McDonald’s tea and baseball caps – one a New York Yankees‘ – decorating the rear window. An air freshener in the shape of a pine tree dangled from the rearview mirror. When police searched the man’s jacket, they found a white sock in the sleeve, which could’ve been worn over a hand to cover fingerprints.
The man renting the house told police he had returned home that same morning and found his house burglarized. He got upset, left and then got a call that people were inside again. “They came back,” he yelled.
In the back of the car: the man’s flat-screen television, a pile of cables that had been part of his surround sound system and a digital video recorder. The owner said he has several buildings in the city and that three of them were burglarized in the past couple of weeks. He met with detectives to give them names of workers in case any of them could be suspects.
Said Syzmczak: “It’s a shame two got away.”
But it was the quick 911 call by the neighbor, who provided a detailed description, and the quick response from the cops that got two suspects. Lt. Orem noted that people like the neighbor “are the key.” Bad guys, he said, “they may see us and hide in the shadows. But the public sees their activities and if they just give us a heads up. …”
His voice trailed off, frustrated because so few people do offer meaningful help, yet it’s so obvious what the cops can do when help does come.
In this case, Collins said, “Hopefully some stuff can be returned to its rightful owner.”
By Peter Hermann
Officer Greg Walters and Gunny will be the Merrimack Police Department’s third K-9 team.
The last was some 20 years ago, when then-Officer Michael Milligan partnered for seven years with King.
“We were successful in tracking lost kids, finding people that had wandered away, and I assisted other communities,” said Milligan, who is now the department’s chief.
“When you find someone or you ferret out a burglar, someone not seen by the human eye because they’re hidden so well, it’s rewarding, because all the work is paying off.”
In the last few years, Milligan has lobbied to reinstate a K-9 team because of what he says is a greater need in the community – primarily for building searches, and finding lost people and evidence.
Merrimack has relied on K-9 teams from other local departments, but sometimes, the teams aren’t available, Milligan said.
In January, the Town Council approved initiating a team, but advised that the department would have to raise all the startup funds.
Since that time, Merrimack Police have raised in the range of $25,000, with the Merrimack Rotary Club and New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police contributing $5,000 each, the Merrimack Crime Line giving $1,800 and the Souhegan Kennel Club giving $1,000.
Also, Mercy Animal Hospital has offered discounted rates on veterinary care, and Pets Choice Food and Supplies will donate food for Gunny’s life.
So far, the department has spent more than $10,000 for Gunny himself, training and outfitting the vehicle.
In the short term, Milligan said he hopes to make some fundraising efforts, such as the Crime Line’s magic show, an annual event.
But in the future, Milligan said, he hopes the town may set aside money for Gunny’s expenses, although he said he understand the council’s decision not to do that now, especially in such economic times.
“I think once animal and team are working, and we can do some PR and show the dog to folks, and have some success with the dog, people will realize this is something we need to support going forward,” Milligan said. “I’m confident that’s going to be the case.”
Milligan plans to introduce Gunny and Walters at a Town Council meeting in January.
By Karen Lovett
18 children from Boyd, Lawrence, Carter and Greenup Counties got to shop with a trooper.
The kids were taken to the Cansonsburg Walmart to browse the aisles for toys.
The children were also taken to Second Baptist Church in Ashland to take part in some fun activities.
The Boyd County Girl Scout Troop #983, Hope’s Place, the Kentucky State Police Professional Association District 14 and KSPPA Drug Enforcement District 17 made the events possible.
By Carrie Jones
Michigan State Police Sgt. Robert Thornton has retired from a 40-year career with the agency, the last 22 of which were spent serving as a sergeant for the Lansing Post.
Thornton, who has received two Bravery Awards and one Meritorious Service Award, has served at the Battle Creek, Detroit, Lansing and Capitol posts, and the Criminal Investigation Division and MSP Headquarters.
Thornton started his career in 1969 as a civilian radio dispatcher in Detroit, and enlisted with the department in 1972. He graduated as a member of the 82nd Trooper Recruit School.
A decorated United States Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran, Thornton has also been recognized with the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police Distinguished Service Medal and the Son of the American Revolution Medal for Heroism for his actions during the robbery of a Lansing bank.
His retirement will be celebrated Dec. 18 at the Lexington Lansing Hotel. For reservations, call Autumn Schrauben at 322-6178.
By Heather Lockwood
His team already was dressing for battle, and Andrew Dennis was trying to catch up.
With the trunk of his car open, he secured his rifle. Helmet. Headset. Pistol. Taser. He was then quickly briefed about the night’s target: a small home on a dark street with someone inside rumored to carry a gun.
Cook County sheriff’s police believed there were drugs inside, and the hostage barricade and terrorist team was going in to find them.
About 30 minutes earlier, Dennis had raced out of Stroger Hospital from his other job, where he treated one last patient who came in from a car crash. Now he would help provide cover to an officer who would toss the flash-bang grenades. If things went wrong and someone got hurt, a message on the headset would signal Dennis and other medics to go inside.
Standing at the back of his car, Dennis was ready — he’d switched from scrubs to fatigues and had a new purpose. The trauma surgeon with a special skill for reconstructing abdominal walls was ready to help kick in a door.
For about eight years, Dennis has straddled two worlds brimming with violence — working as a surgeon in one of the busiest trauma units in the U.S. and as a sworn police officer and unpaid member of two Chicago-area SWAT teams.
“Anything can go wrong,” Dennis said, when asked about similarities of the work. “Police officers learn how to face-read and mind-read and are typically more hyper-aware of situations, especially SWAT cops. Trauma surgeons are not that much different. You learn how to read patients.”
Dennis’ primary focus as a member of the SWAT teams is to provide immediate care to anyone who gets hurt during a raid or a hostage-barricade situation. The mission with Cook County took less than a minute. When it was over, Dennis waited in the front yard with his team as the house was cleared. Nearly 4 pounds of marijuana and a gun were seized. A 21-year-old man was charged with weapons and drug violations.
Dennis, 39, is not normally the one poised at the top of a gangway with an assault rifle. He usually goes in as a “protected entity,” which puts him, pistol in hand, in the back as officers forcibly enter a building. He has never had to fire his gun in the line of duty.
Adding medics or doctors to SWAT teams is a growing practice. But it is rare to have a trauma surgeon assigned to a SWAT team who is also a sworn officer.
Dennis fell into the work in 2001 after officers he met during his residency suggested he join a team. After a series of calls, he found himself meeting with Mike Volling, who was then commander of a cooperative SWAT team that is part of the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System, a mutual support system of departments.
“My first thought was, something is wrong with this guy,” Volling said. “Why does this physician want to come out and play with the police?”
Soon, Volling said, he recognized that Dennis was not merely interested in kicking in doors — wanted to bring expertise to the team.
“He explained to me that on a busy night at Cook County he treats 10 to 15 victims,” Volling recalled. “I said this is the guy we’ve got to get.”
The Des Plaines, Ill., police took on Dennis as an unpaid part-timer, which provided him a place to train and get certified as a police officer.
The worst-case scenario Dennis and other medics face is treating a critical injury, most likely a gunshot wound.
The more likely scenario is a twisted ankle or a heart attack.
“Should something like that happen . . . if we can save one life or save someone from prolonged injury, we did a good thing,” said Bill Evans, the commander of Cook County’s hostage barricade and terrorist team.
On the SWAT teams, Dennis has dealt with training injuries and panicked calls from fellow officers about getting the H1N1 flu shot. He has taught them how to recognize heat exhaustion or what a sucking chest wound sounds like.
“The majority of issues we deal with on SWAT are not traumatic in nature,” Dennis said. And officer survival, he said, “is paramount — to empower and equip these individuals, who are putting their lives on the line for you and me, to be able to go home to their families.”
By A. Sweeney
They police the fake police.
The three veteran Chicago police officers in a little-known unit dedicated to cracking down on phony cops have hundreds of stories of people posing as police officers. The tales range from clever and sophisticated to stupidly brazen.
Police Officers Don Edwards and Roman Matthews, and Sgt. John Spellman make up the 18-year-old unit.
The three of them are tackling a problem common to the nation’s big cities. The Chicago unit is identical to one in the New York Police Department.
In a recent case in Chicago, an impersonator persuaded an 80-year-old woman to withdraw about $18,000 from her bank account in order to pay her husband’s bail. In a panic to have her husband freed, the woman never checked to see if he was indeed in police custody.
“Once these knuckleheads start talking to you, they own you,” said Matthews, a four-year veteran of the unit.
Just this week, a repo man was charged after pretending to be a police officer and creating a ruse with the owner of the car he was trying to repossess, police said.
And then there is the well-known case of the 14-year-old boy masquerading as a cop and going out on calls with a Chicago police officer.
During the holidays, which the officers say is a lucrative time for con artists, the Police Impersonation Unit is aimed at protecting the elderly. There have been three arrests in the last three weeks of men impersonating police officers.
Fake officers, who combine tough-cop attitude with easily acquired police props, often gain their victims’ trust by playing on their respect or fear of police. Senior citizens are popular targets, as are immigrants, drug dealers and others not likely to cooperate with a police investigation, the officers said.
Police say part of fake cops’ success comes from looking the part.
“These guys, especially the ones who prey on the elderly, are very nice in their appearance — wearing shirt and ties — and that puts people at ease,” said Lt. David Naleway of the Internal Affairs’ general investigation section.
To further enhance the cop look, impersonators need only a few props: A police belt, a radio, and sweaters with police patches are all available through online stores or elsewhere. Some impersonators have even bought old Crown Victoria police cruisers, Naleway said.
But one key tool of an impersonator is a fake badge, preferably a silver star like the ones Chicago police wear.
In one recent case, a Hyde Park man used a security guard badge to pose as a federal agent outside of the Goodman Theatre. In another, an admitted gang member on parole used a plastic sheriff’s badge to pose as a police officer. Both men were charged with impersonation of a peace officer.
Obvious fake badges may tip off some would-be victims, but the unit has seen some eye-popping copies of the new Chicago police badge hitting the streets.
Naleway says the key to not being a victim is asking to see not only the badge, but also the city ID card that comes with a hologram.
“Very few people will ever look at (the ID) and then, because they honestly believe that they’re the police, they’re afraid to ask to see the ID,” Naleway said. “A real police officer will never be offended if you ask to see their ID.”
While the impersonators’ goal is clear — money — there is a similar kind of criminal whose motives aren’t always clear.
The case of the phony teenage cop gained national headlines and embarrassed police brass when the uniformed teen walked into the Grand Crossing Police District and, for five hours, drove a squad car and answered calls with another officer.
Police classify the teen — who is in jail for violating terms of his probation — as an impostor rather than an impersonator. An impersonator, they said, poses as an officer in order to commit crimes, while an impostor merely seeks to look the part. “We don’t know what their motive is,” Naleway concedes. “Maybe it’s ego more than anything else.”
The boy was an extraordinary abnormality, police say, because of his confidence, his attention to detail in assembling his police uniform and his familiarity with police procedure.
The average impersonator can be exposed in brief chit-chat with a real officer.
The Police Impersonation Unit’s officers downplay the threat of impostors, saying impersonators routinely rob seniors of their life savings.
“(Impostors are) making up a story, that’s all it is,” Naleway said. “The impersonators are the ones out there hurting people.”
– Ask to see both the officer’s star and city ID card. Chicago police officers are required to carry both.
– Be cautious any time a police officer calls you at home to tell you a family member is in custody. Police only call if the family member is a minor.
– Never meet officers in front of the police station or places such as banks or ATMs.
– If you believe that the person trying to pull you off the road isn’t a real police officer, call police from your cell phone immediately, slow down to 10 mph and go to the nearest busy intersection, gas station or major business.
By William Lee
“I’m doing good,” a cool, calm and collected Christopher Newsom said Friday at his Queens apartment. “I’m going through department procedure, and I want to get back to work.”
“Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” Newsom shouted after spotting the 30-shot weapon carried by suspect Raymond Martinez as they darted through the holiday crowds along Broadway.
Newsom’s desperate calls were ignored outside the Marriott Marquis Hotel, where he fatally shot Martinez, 25, of the Bronx, after the peddler opened fire on him with his stolen MAC-10 semiautomatic weapon.
“As soon as I saw him pull the gun out, I shot him,” the sources quoted Newsom, 41, as telling investigators.
Witnesses confirmed hearing the plainclothes sergeant’s call for Martinez to give up before the 11:15 a.m. gunfight, the two sources said.
Newsom escaped uninjured when Martinez’s weapon jammed after firing only two bullets – enough to send glass flying and out-of-towners diving for cover in the Crossroads of the World.
Newsom – who had never fired his weapon in the line of duty during 17 years on the force – struck Martinez three times.
The sergeant’s wife, Sandra, told reporters her husband was “holding up.”
“He did what he had to do,” she said. “He had a job to do.”
Newsom was working in plainclothes along Broadway when he spotted Martinez scamming tourists into buying CDs, and asked him for the tax stamp required of street vendors. Martinez responded by bolting.
Police sources were investigating whether Martinez simply wanted to kill a cop.
The theory was based on the anti-police lyrics posted by the aspiring rapper on the Internet, and a handwritten note found on his body, the sources said.
“I just finished watching ‘The Last Dragon.’ I feel sorry for a cop if he think (sic) I’m getting into his patty (sic) wagon,” read the note, scrawled on the back of a Virginia gun shop’s business card.
Martinez’s gun was swiped from a woman’s car in Virginia on Oct. 28, authorities said.Martinez’s criminal history included a warrant on a June 19 Times Square arrest for his lack of a tax stamp.
He was also wanted for questioning in a July 21 assault involving his live-in girlfriend, police said.
Cops found a second gun, a nine-shot .22-caliber NEF revolver when they executed a search warrant at Martinez’ Claremont home Friday.
Martinez, the father of a 6-year-old daughter, was mourned by family members gathered in his mother’s Bronx apartment.
Anna Martinez wept over her dead son’s baby photos, remembering him as a musician instead of a menace.
“He likes his music, and he likes his lyrics,” Anna Martinez said, referring to Raymond as if he were still alive.
“He knows God. He is a man of God. We studied the Bible together all the time as a family.”
Martinez’s older brother Oliver, 28, his sidekick in the scam involving CDs and DVDs, remained locked up in his room after he was released by police.
“Oliver has been grieving all night,” said Anna Martinez, a home health care aide and the mother of five sons. “They were like twins.”
His mother said she was shocked by news that her son was armed and fired first.
“He had been in trouble before, yes, but for selling CDs,” she said. “He was not selling drugs or anything like that. He was just into his music.”
By L. McShane, K. Nocera and R. Parascandola
Seven-year-old Jessie Cunningham had made out a list — her sisters, check. Brother? Check. Mom? Check. It was time to find something for her dad.
Jessie and Topeka police Detective Kristi Powell were on a hunt Saturday for Christmas gifts at Wal-Mart, 1501 S.W. Wanamaker, during Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 17th annual “Kids and Cops.”
The items in their shopping cart were being kept secret because Jessie’s older sisters Sarah and Hannah weren’t far away.
“She’s been pretty generous about buying stuff for everybody else,” said Powell, who has participated in the annual event for at least 10 years.
Across the store, John Reedy, who isn’t a law enforcement officer, was shopping with his “little brother,” Jordan Ross, 12, for one of Jordan’s nieces.
“It’s something with Elmo on Sesame Street,” Jordan said.
The “brothers” have been matched up for more than two years. They agreed that shopping wasn’t quite their forte.
“We still don’t shop well,” Reedy said. “We’re a little too typical guy.”
Jordan had found some Barbie clothes for one of his nieces and was making his way down his shopping list to find gifts for his brother, mom and cousin.
The “Kids and Cops” event, formerly known as “Shop with a Cop,” pairs a child ages 5 to 17 with a law enforcement officer from the Topeka Police Department or the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office. This year, each child was allotted $100 to buy gifts for his or her friends and family members, and maybe even a gift for themselves.
“From past experience, hardly any of the children (buy for themselves),” said police officer Joe Harrison. “It’s really neat to see what the children do.”
Nearly half of the funding is provided by the Kansas City Royals, and the other half is provided by Wal-Mart and the Topeka Fraternal Order of Police. About 100 kids who have been matched or are on a waiting list with Big Brothers Big Sisters were at Saturday’s event.
Additionally, $1,000 is given to each of the pediatrics units at Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center and St. Francis Health Center.
Once the children’s shopping was completed, two check lanes were open especially for them to purchase their gifts. Then they were able to wrap them with supplies provided by Wal-Mart.
“The kids get a kick shopping with us,” Harrison said. “They see us in a different light this way. Oftentimes when they see us, it’s a traumatic or negative experience.”
Nancy Daniels, executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters, said there are 190 children on the waiting list to be matched up. Of those, 140 are boys. She stressed the need for “big brothers.” She said some of the children on the list have been waiting for two years and get discouraged, but the shopping event is something they look forward to.
“This is a big motivation for them to say ‘I could shop with a cop next year,’ ” Daniels said.
Following shopping with Big Brothers Big Sisters kids at the Wanamaker Wal-Mart, officers were headed over to the north Topeka Wal-Mart to shop with about 15 TARC children.
By Adrielle Harvey
The event brought big smiles to the Covington Walmart, where Santa Claus was waiting in his red-and-white suit.
But the real Santas were wearing a different uniform – one with a badge.
The annual “Shop with a Cop” program brought together King County deputies with kids whose holiday otherwise might not be so bright.
“Give them a chance to come out and get some presents when normally they wouldn’t be able to get something like this,” says Deputy Kobi Hamill, describing the purpose behind the program
Each kid gets $50 to spend any way they want.
Young Cody Linden says, “I’m going to try and find Lego City – the one on the TV.”
Alex Nelson says, “Transformers! Why? Cause they’re awesome.”
Ian Gardner says, “Couple presents for myself. A couple presents for my family.”
And Tyler Freeman adds, “It’s fun because we just go around and shop.”
The money for the event is raised all year. And the connection made on the toy aisle could pay off for many more Christmases.
“Hopefully it’s one of the benefits of developing a relationship with kids and letting them know we’re not the bad guys, that they can approach us and feel comfortable about walking up to us a talking to us,” says Sgt. Marcus Williams.
And money can’t buy the reaction from the kids.
Jeramey Schoemann says, “This is my best Christmas ever. I got an adventure set, a Nerf ball and a Slinky.”
Cody Linden says, “It makes be feel so happy.”
Taking home toys and smiles that will last into the new year.
By Theron Zahn
The Washington County Sheriff’s Department and Marietta College Campus Police helped bring Christmas to children with families that could use a little help this holiday season.
With everything from toys to a new winter coat, these children got to fill their shopping carts with a variety of new items.
The cops and volunteers say it’s an experience that benefits them just as much as the children.
By Cathleen Moxley