A Night In The Life

Officer Jacob Gabbard holds up a vial of crack cocaine he found on the street. (Photos  David Stuck)

Officer Jacob Gabbard holds up a vial of crack cocaine he found on the street. (Photos David Stuck)

In a city where the murder rate, which just hit a four-year high with 234 homicides recorded in 2013, gains national attention year after year, it’s just business as usual for officers in Baltimore’s busy Northwestern District.

“You’re never more than a block away from sheer, unadulterated violence,” says police officer Jacob Gabbard.

Gabbard, 38, and John Sheehan, 31, patrol the area that stretches from Pikesville to Mondawmin. Unlike the Eastern or Western districts, where crime is almost exclusively drug-related, the Northwestern District — one of five that make up the city of Baltimore — experiences just about every kind of crime. From larceny to homicide, Northwestern officers see the entire spectrum on a daily basis.

A recent ride-along with the pair for a “Charlie” shift — the busiest of the three Baltimore police shifts — earlier this month, offered the chance to see just what those responsible for guarding Baltimore’s streets experience every day between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Evening-shift officers begin their workday at 2:39 p.m. when they report for roll call, a briefing of any new developments or policies before they hit their beats.

Three areas split the Northwestern District, with Sector I spanning from Belvedere Avenue south to Liberty Square and from Pimlico Road to the Metro subway tracks. Sector II covers the area to the west of the Metro to the city line; Sector III spreads north from Belvedere Avenue and Northern Parkway. Sheehan and Gabbard call Sector II, the largest in the Northwest, their professional home.

Generally, about six officers cover each area, each patrolling in his or her own cruiser. But on this particular night, Sheehan and Gabbard ride together.

Officer Jacob Gabbard gathers information from the family of a missing woman.

Officer Jacob Gabbard gathers information from the family of a missing woman.

For Gabbard, the Baltimore Police Department is the latest stop in a string of departments. As he pulls out of the district headquarters’ lot and heads south on Reisterstown Road, he provides a look into the life history of a career law enforcement officer: He grew up wanting to be a policeman and graduated from a police academy when he was only 18. After bouncing around from town to town in his native Ohio — he had a stint as an undercover narcotics officer — and in search of steady police work, he decided to move to Baltimore, which offered better job security.

“I don’t regret it, not for one second,” he says of making the switch in 2006 from small-town policing to patrolling a major metropolitan area. In just a couple of months in Baltimore City, he was able to do everything he had done in all of his years in Ohio and then some. Coming to Baltimore, he says, was “the best decision I ever made.”

For Sheehan, a native of northern New Jersey, the decision to become a police officer in Baltimore came a little later in life. Attending Iona College in New York, he wanted to get into forensics. But “after taking science and math classes, I was like, ‘Nah,’ ” he says with with a smile. He joined the Baltimore Police Department in 2004.

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