Baltimore police dispatchers put out a call just after midnight yesterday that captured everyone's attention: Unit One ... Signal 13.
In other words, the police commissioner needs help - fast.
The city's top cop, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, was alone in the basement of a Southwest Baltimore rowhouse holding a suspect at gunpoint.
A member of his executive protection unit, Peter Sullivan, was upstairs searching the house for a second man with a gun.
"I was worried about him," Bealefeld said yesterday, referring to his fellow officer. "I'm sure he was worried about me."
A hands-on leader, Bealefeld is known to ride around the city and has chased down the occasional suspect.
But ordinarily, at midnight on New Year's Eve, Baltimore's police commissioner is downtown overseeing officers assigned to the Inner Harbor during the annual fireworks display. The department bulks up its ranks, canceling all leaves so there are enough officers on hand to help with the crowds and an anticipated spike in crime because of the city's tradition of celebratory gunfire.
With the fireworks postponed this year because of high winds, Bealefeld took advantage of the extra 1,100 officers on duty and sent them throughout the city. That meant 1,500 officers working the streets, up from about 400 on a typical night.
"You either send people home and tell people come back tomorrow, or you make use of those resources," he said. "The overwhelming consensus was let's make use of the resources we already had programmed and let's put them in the neighborhoods."
The result: In addition to the pair of guns Bealefeld seized, city officers took 46 other firearms between midnight and 3 a.m. They arrested 44 suspects on gun charges, police said. But even with the extra officers on the street, one city man was shot in East Baltimore about 1 a.m. yesterday and was on life support yesterday evening.
Bealefeld participated in the patrols and initially drove with his two-member protection detail and his communications director around east-side neighborhoods.
Satisfied with coverage there, they headed to the Bridgeview-Greenlawn community on the west side, where a man had shot five people on Sunday.
"We figured that people would be on edge," he said. "It is not rocket science. We do this every day."
As midnight approached, Bealefeld heard gunfire.
The group drove toward it, heading to Catherine Street near Bon Secours Hospital.
Bealefeld and Sullivan jumped from the car. "We're looking west up the alley," Bealefeld said. "A guy walked out and started shooting. You could see the muzzle flash. You know it is a gun, a big gun."
They saw a second man shooting.
Sullivan and the commissioner ran up the alley toward the gunfire.
"We were getting closer, they fired the gun again," Bealefeld said.
The commissioner chased them into a backyard. "Peter yells 'Police! Police! Stop!' " Bealefeld said.
The men ducked into the basement of a rowhouse in the 2500 block of W. Fairmount Ave., with Bealefeld and Sullivan in pursuit.
Inside, Bealefeld and Sullivan encountered a roomful of people. The police commissioner spotted one of the suspects there and held him downstairs. Sullivan went upstairs to find the other.
"For a little minute, we were in there by ourselves," Bealefeld said.
The second member of the commissioner's protection unit, Annie Miller, had called for backup. She was outside and did not know which rowhouse the commissioner had entered.
Bealefeld got on the radio, too, and called in the address for the rowhouse. "I was on the radio saying Unit One," he said.
He then added the code that set the whole force on edge: "Signal 13."
So many cars responded to the distress call that Bealefeld worried about protection in other parts of the city, causing him to have mixed feelings about the incident.
"This is the professional dilemma of being the police commissioner and being out on the street. I was grateful for the backup. But we have other cops in the city. We have to be covering them too."
In the end, police arrested Davon Rogers, 23, and Devin Rogers, 18. Each was charged with illegally firing a gun in the city, records show. And officers seized two sawed-off shotguns, a Remington and a Mossberg, police said.
Shortly afterward, Bealefeld fielded an angry phone call from his wife, who had become worried when he did not call her at midnight on New Year's Eve as he normally does.
Her first question was whether he was wearing a bullet-resistant vest. He told her he was.