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A night of patterned patrolling with Westminster Police


The high-pitched signal emanating from Westminster Police Officer Martin Runk’s computer pierces through the calm country music on the radio.


“They just updated the computers so every time a call comes in there’s a beep,” Runk says. “And it’s annoying. I can’t turn it down.”

A dispatcher’s voice follows the signal: “I have an OD at 247 E. Main Street.”


“10-4, I’m in the middle of the city,” Runk responds.

The dispatcher proceeds: “Woman took 18 valium and consumed alcohol.”

Runk picks up the pace a little, but not to breakneck speed because he’s nearby and the overdose was reported from a counseling center that employs medical personnel, including psychiatrists. There’s probably a doctor right there, Runk explains.

As he pulls up to the curb at approximately 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, other Westminster police cars were on scene, with paramedics soon to follow.

Runk parks and approaches the facility. The burley, bald policeman passes through the waiting area to get to the back of the counseling center, where other officers greet him. First responders are in the room with the overdose patient.

Paramedics arrive shortly thereafter and take over in the room with the patient.

“Did you take these all to harm yourself?” a first responder inside the room asks.

“No … I was trying to get high,” the 18-year-old woman’s voice grumbles in response.


Outside the room a firefighter makes small talk with police officers that stand by. “Slow day for you guys?” he asks.

“Unfortunately,” responds Westminster Police Lt. Tom Kowalczyk, “no.”

The paramedics decide to transport the woman to Carroll Hospital. Runk heads for the exit, making sure to engage the children playing in the lobby.

“What’re you building,” Runk asks a boy sitting beside a mountain of Legos.

“Nothing,” the child responds.

Drug overdoses continue to proliferate in Westminster, like much of the country. There were 133 overdoses through the first eight months of the year, compared to 103 through the first eight months of 2017, according to Westminster Police Department data.


That’s about a 30-percent hike in overdoses — the majority of which can be attributed to heroin and fentanyl, said Capt. Pete D’Antuono of the Westminster Police Department.

In Westminster, like many other jurisdictions across the country, police take on an important role on the front lines of the opioid crisis.

“First and most importantly, we provide emergency medical care for overdose victims. … provide overdose victims with resource and referral information so that they understand the array of resources available to them,” Westminster Police Chief Jeffrey Spaulding wrote in an email to the Times. “We also seek to obtain information as to the source of the drug in an effort to identify drug distributors who may be providing illegal drugs to our community.”

Runk and other officers hand each overdose patient a card titled “Stamp Out Heroin.” Block letters reading “Overdosed, Tired & Ready for Change?” overlay a picture of a wave crashing on a beach. Phone numbers for officials at the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office are displayed in red type below the message “Ask for Help!”

Sometimes the patients reach out, other times they don’t and police respond to find the same person overdosing again days later, Runk says. “We pretty much know them by name.”

“I think I’ve actually responded to more overdoses here than when I worked in Baltimore,” Runk says, comparing his duties in Westminster to those of his 21-year career with Baltimore City Police. In Baltimore, the fire department handled most overdoses, he clarifies.


And overdoses sometimes go unreported in the big city, he explains: “People call more [in Westminster]. They’re more concerned.”

Beat 4: dense housing, police presence

Back in Runk’s unmarked patrol car he retrieves a notepad from the driver’s-side visor, makes note of the overdose — he keeps a log of every call he responds to — and drives away. “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw plays over the speakers. Off to Beat 4.

Beat 4, the easternmost police patrolling sector, encompasses everything east of Center Street within city limits. The area contains some tightly packed and subsidized housing.

Westminster has experienced a spike in gun crimes this year. There were 10 incidents involving firearms through the end of July this year, compared to two over the first seven months of 2017. Half of the 2018 gun incidents occurred in Beat 4.

Westminster police regularly check apartment complexes like Bishops Garth and Timber Ridge because they receive so many calls from there, Runk explains, steering around the semicircle driveway at Bishops Garth for the first time at around 5:30 p.m.

When he does such checks his eyes scan for any of the people he knows who deal drugs, anybody that’s trying to avoid being seen by him and anything out of the ordinary, Runk says.


Runk checks back at the apartment complex an hour later, no suspicious activity or anything unusual. He drives on. A shirtless man in grey sweatpants, who Runk calls “one of his dealers” and saw in another part of the city earlier returned to Beat 4, “where he usually is,” Runk says.

He drives past slowly. The man stands beside a front porch, flanked by another, bigger shirtless man. Runk passes.

Two men, one with braids and the other wearing a dark hat and sunglasses, walk by as Runk pauses at the corner of Thomas Lane and Bishop Street.

“I don’t know that I know either of those guys,” he says.

Moments later another officer pulls up in a marked Ford Explorer and rolls down his window.

“Did you know either of those guys,” Runk asks. His mustached colleague does. He’d taken part in their arrest weeks before.


The computer sounds again at 6:40 p.m., “BEEP BEEP, BEEP BEEP.”

“Which one of the calls on Pennsylvania [Avenue] do you want me to take?” Runk asks headquarters.

HQ directs him to an address.

He arrives at a townhouse to find a woman wearing a red shirt sitting on a front stoop. The woman was concerned about her 2-month-old child, but it was a custody issue, a civil matter, Runk later explained. Runk told the woman that she’d have to go to court, he said.

Cat and Mouse

“Let’s come back at our buddies from a different angle this time,” Runk says around 7 p.m., turning down a narrow alley.

Runk drives by the shirtless men from earlier slowly, making his presence crystal clear. Runk’s window is rolled down despite the sticky late-August heat.


“I truthfully put mine down so I can hear,” he says. “Sometimes they give themselves away by calling out.

“But the fresh air is nice.”

The shirtless men see him, but they go about their business. And Runk hasn’t witnessed them doing anything illegal, so he drives on.

Catching a drug deal in the act is difficult and rare — even for Runk, who’s policing skills were refined on the streets of Baltimore patrolling and doing drug operations.

“It only takes 10-15 seconds to do a drug deal,” Runk explains, “so if you’re not there, right then” you can’t arrest somebody for it.

But Runk’s work is crucial, especially considering the recent spate of violence.


Spaulding, the police chief, said there’s a nexus between gun violence and drugs. He attributed some of the shootings, four of which were classified as shots fired instances where nobody was injured or found, to people involved in drug activity. Regardless, Spaulding initiated a collaborative law enforcement crackdown that incorporated the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and Maryland State Police personnel.

The crackdown yielded about 30 arrests in approximately a month. But Runk and other Westminster police must continue the effort once the collaborative crackdown ends, a date that has not yet been determined.

Westminster police made nine drug distribution arrests through the first eight months of the year — compared to 15 a year before, according to department data.

When there are a lot of suspected drug dealers around, Runk tightens his patrolling area, he says.

“If they see me coming around they might think twice about doing their deal,” he says. “Some nights it’s just a matter of who has more patience, me or them.”

The night of Aug. 30 would result in something of a stalemate — but not for a lack of trying on Runk’s part. He remained vigilant, searching for hints of drug deals and utilizing all the technology at his disposal.


It’s 7:10 p.m. Runk positions himself outside a convenience store at the corner of East Green and South Bishop streets. A man and a woman stand outside. The woman sees Runk’s grey Crown Vic and says something to the man, whose back is turned. She fumbles through her purse and pulls out a carton of cigarettes.

Runk’s computer pings a different sound.

“That was the [Carroll County Sheriff’s] deputy that just messaged me,” Runk says, pulling up a law enforcement messaging service. “He told me a guy we saw has a warrant out … he didn’t show up for court.”

Runk circles the block and returns to the convenience store within two minutes. The man and woman are gone. Runk patrols on, driving through neighborhoods.

He pulls up to a stop-sign at 7:20 p.m. Bingo. The man and woman from the convenience store are in front of a house. “I was right, she does drive that [Toyota] 4Runner,” Runk says, referencing an SUV he saw parked by the convenience store.

The veteran police officer says he knows some people are involved with drugs because they’ve been arrested, but “others I’ve just watched enough to know they’re in the game.”


After a trip up West Main, where he pulled over a motorcyclist that almost crashed into him, Runk returns to Beat 4 — and his acquaintances.

He again pauses across from the house with the 4Runner. A baby-swaddling woman walks out of the house and toward Runk’s car. She asks Runk why he’s sitting at the stop sign.

“Because I feel like it,” he snaps back.

“Cause you feel like it?” the woman fires back more hastily. “Seems like harassment when you’re constantly stalking us 24/7.”

“I don’t work 24 hours a day, so that’s impossible,” Runk responds.

The woman retreats to her home. Runk drives away. He pulls to the side of the road and looks up the pair on Maryland Judiciary Case Search. The man had been arrested recently for driving under the influence of alcohol and narcotics.


His car-mounted computer is his best crime fighting tool. Every time he passes a vehicle his eyes pick up the license plate. While calmly steering with his left hand he types the tag number into his computer with his right. The program tells him whether the owner of the car is clean, or has a warrant.

Traffic stops, a crime-fighting must

“I can’t find anything to get into,” Runk says around 9 p.m.

Not for long. Moments later a white Oldsmobile Cutlass passes him and piques the officer’s interest. Historic tags. But it’s nighttime. That’s illegal. Runk flashes his emergency lights and pulls the car over.

“I knew I know him,” Runk says, checking the tag. “I had him for a DUI back in June.”

He walks to the driver’s-side window and collects the license and registration. He returns to the car and runs the license in the computer. Ding ding ding. It’s a hit. License suspended.

Runk double-checks with HQ — the computer was right. The driver’s license is suspended.


Runk could arrest the driver based on that, he explains, “but [the driver’s] being cooperative, so I told him he could call his sister to pick him up. … I’ll just write tickets.”

“I’m actually starting to get a little tired,” Runk concedes around 10:30 at night.

But three minutes later a car zooms through a residential area. It’s pitch black. Runk hammers the accelerator, but doesn’t initiate his emergency equipment — the blue lights and siren.

The car continues to drive fast. It’s a black Honda Accord. Runk sees something — the car crosses the double yellow lines traveling southbound on Washington Road. He flicks a switch. The lights flash and the siren blares.

The car pulls over. Runk talks to the driver. The Baltimore man says he just got out of prison after his handgun charge was dropped in relation to police corruption, Runk says.

Runk, reinvigorated by the speed, runs the plates. Suspended license.


“He’s cooperating, but I have a strange feeling about him,” the former Baltimore cop says, typing the driver’s name into case search. Quite the rap sheet: attempted murder, multiple assaults, attempted armed robbery firearms violations and a stolen auto in Carroll County, Runk lists.

He calls for a second unit. Two arrive.

The officers ask the driver to step out of the vehicle. The man is taller than and clearly outweighs Runk. But Runk searches him, regardless, while his backup shines a flashlight. Runk asks to search the car. The driver complies. It yields nothing.

The man did have a lot of cash in his wallet, Runk says later.

Runk allows the man to call somebody to pick him up. A gray sedan slows before pulling right onto Alto Avenue, about 100 yards behind the police and pulled-over car.

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A woman emerges. She walks up, Runk checks her license and allows her to drive the black Honda. But the experienced policeman had noticed the gray car hadn’t returned to Washington Avenue. Weird, he says he thought.


Runk turns around, now driving north on Washington, back toward the the city center. He whips a left turn onto South Center Street, another on Longview Avenue and back onto Alto where he finds a gray Pontiac Grand Prix. It was the car that had dropped off the woman who drove the Honda. A man sat alone in the passenger’s seat.

Runk passes, acting normal, again turns left on Washington and then on South Center. The Grand Prix is mobile. But it’s brake light is out. Runk initiates another traffic stop. The driver’s license comes back suspended.

“He wasn’t happy to be pulled over,” Runk says in his patrol car. The Pontiac driver is clearly animated as he waits for Runk to return to the car, stopped on South Center by Carroll Hospital, and tell him his fortune.

Runk realizes he arrested the driver weeks ago for domestic assault. But he again allows the suspended driver — the third suspended license he’s discovered on the night — to call for a ride while he prepares tickets with a notice to appear in court.

The woman who earlier drove the black Honda shows up again in a different car. She drives away with the Pontiac and suspended driver.

Runk’s night would soon conclude. But when he gears up for his next shift, and the one after that, he’ll keep that black Honda and all associated with it in mind — he knows them now, just like the shirtless men.