By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun
3:08 PM EDT, May 22, 2012
Joanna Sullivan knows what she saw Saturday night as she and her husband peered through the window of their home overlooking Patterson Park - more than 20 youths involved in a "melee" on the tennis courts.
But police statistics and incidents reports won't show that any such incident took place. The reason points to a disconnect between residents' experiences with crimes and longstanding police policies.
The incident occurred at about 9 p.m. on the Patterson Park tennis courts. Sullivan, the editor of the Baltimore Business Journal, said she called 911 four times without being able to get through to a dispatcher. When she did, she detailed a scary scene.
"There's groups of kids fighting and rioting," she said, according to a copy of the 911 tape released by police. "They are fighting! There's 20, 50 maybe. ... They're fighting in the park, hitting each other! Get them [officers]here!"
By the time the officers showed up, the kids were scattering, Sullivan said. Having read recent stories about violent incidents downtown and near the Inner Harbor that some say were underplayed by police, Sullivan called 911 again, demanding to be allowed to file a report.
"I want to get it on the record, because it was terrifying," she told the dispatcher. "They're out of control. You're not going to cover this up."
The dispatcher told Sullivan that she couldn't file a report, because she wasn't the victim. That frustrated Sullivan, who said later in an interview that without a report, how could she be sure people - including police and her neighbors - would know what happened? How could they prevent it from happening again?
Police say that the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) guidelines require a victim to make the complaint, and in lieu of a victim, the incident is already documented within the department's Computer Aided Dispatch records and radio transmissions.
"Not every fight that occurs in the city is going to generate a police report," said Anthony Guglielmi, the department's chief spokesman.
Major Bill Davis, the commander of the Southeast District, said that while crime statistics and most reports won't reflect that a large-scale fight occurred, his commanders and officers are well aware of what happened and the internal documentation is a sufficient and proper way to track the incident.
When there's no victim or crime under the UCR guidelines, police have the option of file a report known as a "police information report," but Davis said that is only necessary ifadditional information is gathered by officers beyond the dispatch reports that needs to be memorialized, such as a witness interview or evidence of a weapon. In this case, police who got to the scene didn't learn anything more than what the callers had provided.
Davis said each morning, commanders get a list of calls dispatched in their area, and last year he also initiated a program in which any incidents involving juveniles - from fights to neighbors complaining about kids playing ball in the street - so that they can be troubleshooted in hopes of avoiding arrests and citations.
I checked with two police sources to get their thoughts, and they agreed that the incident was handled in line with the department's policies. But many residents are likely to view the case as another example of police not being forthcoming with the public.
For Sullivan, being told police wouldn't take her report seemed like police weren't taking it seriously. "It just seemed like it wasn't important enough to bring to their attention," she said in an interview.
She's lived near Patterson Park for six years. "We love it - the park is beautiful. We don't want to see it ruined," she said.
So what happened that night? Sullivan said there's a group of Ecuadorian men who play sports there, and neighbors say a group of neighborhood youth were trying to steal things from them. Davis said police aren't sure what happened, since those involved fled and witnesses at the scene didn't have any insight.
But, he said the park is supposed to be closed from dusk until dawn, and he's asking officers to be more vigilant in shooing people from the park when darkness falls.
"If these guys were in there at 9:16 at night, the park is technically closed at that point," Davis said. "We're instructing officers to pay attention to the courts to let the individuals know they have to be out of there. Most victimization is going to happen at night."
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