Sometimes, when you call 911, the police don't show up

The Baltimore Sun

For the fifth-grade boys of Cub Scout Den 2, Pack 737 at the Norwood School in Bethesda, an overnight stay at the National Aquarium was, as their den leader Nanci Gosnell put it, "too cool to pass up."

The 10 children arrived at the Inner Harbor attraction Friday afternoon, dined on lasagna and brownies, walked across the top of the shark tank, toured the rain forest exhibit after the aquarium had closed for the night, and camped out in sleeping bags next to the dolphins.

But when they left Saturday morning to head home in two Cadillac Escalades parked spaces apart at the Landmark garage on Gay Street, the chaperons and children discovered that someone had broken out both vehicles' windows, ransacked the interiors and stolen an iPod and a GPS device.

Gosnell called 911 at 9:14 a.m. and said she told the dispatcher the address and her precise location on the second floor.

They huddled in 38-degree temperatures and waited.

Gosnell spied a screwdriver and a metal pipe on the front seat of one of the SUVs.

They waited some more.

Gosnell noticed that her glove compartment had been pried open and the car manuals and compact discs tossed about.

They waited some more.

Gosnell found a dent near a door and signs that someone had tried to pry out a DVD player installed in a seat.

While they waited, they found black trash bags, ripped them apart and taped them over the broken windows.

Finally, at 11:05 a.m., Gosnell packed up the kids and drove to the attendant. She handed him the screwdriver and pipe, refused to pay the $30 fee and drove home with a cold wind blowing through both vehicles.

"One little child told me, 'I know what happens when you call 911: The police come. They come in three minutes. That's what happens on TV,' " Gosnell said. "So all the way home, I had to explain why the police didn't come, why they didn't care."

Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed Gosnell's 911 call and said that an officer notified dispatch of a response at 10:05 a.m. He said the officer was delayed because he had been helping a colleague on another call. At 10:21 a.m., the officer notified dispatch that he couldn't find the complainant and at 10:53 a.m. the call was closed.

Later, the spokesman said the Central District commander, Maj. John Bailey, pulled the officer's "run sheet" - a list of activities and calls - and discovered that the officer mistakenly went to a garage at 100 South St., instead of the garage two blocks away at 100 S. Gay St., where Gosnell was parked.

Bailey called Gosnell and told her the officer or dispatcher should have called her back on her cell phone. Guglielmi said a police report is being written and will be sent to Gosnell for her insurance company. "It was a mistake, and we're very, very sorry," the spokesman said.

All big cities have crime and require taking certain precautions when visiting. City officials say there has been a rash of car break-ins in downtown garages, and they have for years warned people not to leave anything enticing in their parked vehicles, including pocket change and chargers for cell phones.

I would hope garage owners would step up security and warn their partners (the Aquarium refers patrons to this garage - where they get a $3 discount - and contracts for its staff members to park there) about any problems. The executive director of Baltimore's Parking Authority, Peter Little, confirmed for me a rash of car break-ins in recent weeks at downtown garages, both private and ones owned by the city.

Aquarium spokeswoman Jennifer Bloomer said she was unaware of crime issues but that officials would "talk about communicating these incidents a little better." She said that if Gosnell comes back with another den, as she is planning to do next month, "we encourage them to call us before and we can give them tips for parking. Our security team will be happy to escort the group in and out." Officials from Landmark - which owns 16 garages in Baltimore, 12 of them downtown - did not return my calls.

Gosnell said she and the kids had a great time at the aquarium. Each paid about $70 to stay overnight, which gets them guided behind-the-scenes tours and the place to themselves for the night. She said two parents expressed reservations before the trip about sending their children to Baltimore. "I said, 'Look at Harborplace. Look how they cleaned it up. It's so nice.' "

It's a shame that their experience was ruined and that the break-ins will only reinforce the perception that Baltimore is not a safe place to visit or live.

Baltimore police have a daunting task - this weekend alone an officer was shot twice in the head and critically wounded trying to make an undercover drug buy, another officer shot and killed a man who was stabbing a woman, a 14-year-old boy was killed in an argument over a girl, and a taxi driver was fatally shot in his cab.

But we also can't forget the small stuff.

Mistakes will be made, and I'm pleased the department has owned up to it and will make amends.

Gosnell said Bailey told her about the busy weekend and about his wounded officer: "I told him I was very sorry and would have understood if I had been told someone would not be coming to our garage, but that I should have been called in any case."

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