‘You Get Pretty Immune To What You See’
When the officers get a missing person call for a mentally handicapped woman on Wynham Road, they spend more than an hour getting more information on her, alerting other officers on duty, searching the nearby area and talking to neighbors. When no one recalls having seen the woman all day, Gabbard calls local hospitals to see if anybody matching her description has been admitted. Met with more dead ends, he calls BPD’s missing person’s division and is told that the woman does not meet the “vulnerable adult” criteria. This leaves the brunt of the responsibility with Gabbard, who, as the only officer actively searching for the woman for the time being, will have to balance looking for her with his patrol duties.
While Sheehan and Gabbard must split their time finding missing persons with responding to other major calls, Shomrim has the opportunity to focus its near full attention on any missing person report it receives, says Rosenbluth. Coordinators quickly dispatch volunteers to the home of the person making the report, to the group’s headquarters to make flyers and to the phones to inform other community organizations and the police. As many as 80 people can respond to any one call. Other organizations, like the Northwest Citizens Patrol, can offer even more help.
After making some more calls for the missing person case and grabbing a fast-food dinner, the officers return to East Arlington — just more than two miles from the Park Heights JCC — where they stopped in on a vigil earlier for one of two men shot Jan. 12 in the Northwest. It’s about 7:30 p.m.
“I will never be able to wrap my head around it,” Gabbard says of the vigils often held at the scene of homicides in the city. What began earlier in the evening as a group of a dozen or so people lighting candles and comforting each other grows to a crowd of more than 100. The corner is strewn with broken bottles, and the crowd is getting too large to be kept off the street.
For Gabbard, the problem isn’t that people want to console each other, it’s that they choose to grieve outside on a corner where traffic is affected and attendees risk harm by vehicles.
By 10 p.m., the department decides to shut down the vigil. A helicopter arrives with a spotlight and a voice booms over a megaphone telling vigil attendees that they have to get off the street. The situation quickly becomes tense as officers, who had been observing from a distance, close in on the group; attendees begin to argue for the right to stay on the block.
Using an expletive, one woman criticizes the police presence, telling the officers they’re on the block tonight for the wrong reason. Another accuses the department of interfering any time people try to assemble.
The district commander arrives to help diffuse the situation; the officers look tired and frustrated. It’s easy to become jaded in this line of work, says Sheehan, but you learn to adapt.
“You get pretty immune to what you see,” says Sheehan. After a few years on the job, “you’re more skeptical of people. When you’re here for a little bit, you realize that some people just are not good.”