The 5 a.m. chill of a May morning causes nary a shiver among the five men and one woman in short-sleeved shirts as they stand in a parking lot next to the Arundel Center. And they don't seem to mind being fully awake and alert while nearly everyone else is asleep.
"OK, we're ready to go," says their leader, Sheriff George F. Johnson IV.
This morning, he will have his first chance since being elected in November to accompany deputy sheriffs as they sweep southern Anne Arundel County for deadbeat parents and probation violators. Sheriff Johnson wants to dispel the notion that a deputy's duties are limited to transporting prisoners and guarding the courthouse.
"These guys put themselves in harm's way in everything they do," said Sheriff Johnson, who led the county Police Department's robbery unit before becoming sheriff. "This is something the public rarely gets to see."
Joining the sheriff are Lt. Edward Smith and Deputies Jay Lowery, Valerie Honablue, Brent Iglehart and Edgar Koch II. All except Mr. Koch wear the standard uniform: a light brown shirt and dark brown pants with a black stripe down the side. Mr. Koch, a part-time deputy, wears the pants with a dark brown shirt and is the spitting image of his father, Edgar F. Koch, a deputy county police chief.
In three unmarked cars and a van used for transporting prisoners, the crew heads out, turning left on West Street, right onto Church Circle, then cruising down Duke of Gloucester Street. Sheriff Johnson and Lieutenant Smith ride in the lead car.
The deputies have warrants and a current photograph of every person they want.
"Nobody really looks for you to come knocking on their door this time of the morning," Deputy Lowery, an 18-year veteran, says in explaining why the department chooses the early morning for such activities. "It kind of catches them off guard."
Five minutes later, the caravan stops at an apartment in the 1000 block of Madison St., the home of Anthony Savoy, 35. He is wanted on two counts of failure to appear for not paying child support. This is not the first time deputies have looked for him.
"The last time, this guy jumped out a third-floor window," Sheriff Johnson said as his deputies went to the third floor and rousted the sleeping Mr. Savoy. "He practically landed in the lap of a deputy."
Mr. Savoy doesn't try any daredevil antics this time. Five minutes after arriving, deputies lead the scowling man out.
The group presses on to the next block.
"Most of these locations are close together so we can hit them fast," Deputy Lowery says.
The apartments in the 1100 block of Madison St. have security locks. Deputies not only have to knock, but have to wait until someone buzzes them in. When Deputy Lowery rings the bell, a woman's voice answers over a speaker, clearly irate.
"Who is it?"
"Sheriff's office, ma'am," Deputy Lowery answers politely.
L "What?" the woman answers, incredulity obvious in her voice.
A few minutes later, Anthony Brandford, 38, wanted on drug charges, is led out.
Serving criminal warrants is an exercise in hard work and luck for the 32 full-time and 20 part-time deputies in the department, which has an annual budget of $2 million. Three teams of five deputies and a supervisor serve them daily, Sheriff Johnson said. On this morning, two other teams operated in other parts of the county simultaneously with the sheriff's.
After Mr. Brandford's arrest, deputies are lucky and unlucky at an apartment across the street. They are looking for Florine Griffen and Vernon Harrison. Ms. Griffen isn't home, but Mr. Harrison, 35, and his brother Sterling Harrison, 36, are asleep in the living room.
Both are wanted for failure to pay child support. Vernon Harrison had escaped from the Anne Arundel County jail.
This day's sweep ends with deputies making 10 arrests, about half of them people on the list. The 50 percent success rate is standard, Sheriff Johnson says.