Detective Sgt. Allen Adkins and Detective Darryl Turner had two options yesterday: According to their investigation, the 48-year-old woman, a chronic drug user being sought on a warrant, might have been in one East Baltimore apartment. Or, maybe another, just three doors down.
Adkins approached the first door, pounding loudly as a light snow fell on an otherwise still morning, while Turner went to the other. The occupants of both apartments, groggy and semiclothed, eventually answered and reported that they hadn't seen the woman in months. But every time she's locked up, their addresses were among those she provides to authorities. Why?
"Because she's an idiot," one of the occupants snapped.
On the surface, the warrant - which stems from a single drug possession charge - seems like a small thing in a city with hundreds of murders a year. But police say the woman is among a priority group of people who are prone to acts of violence or are at risk of becoming victims themselves.
Amid a spate of violence last fall, officials drew up a list of more than 500 offenders with open warrants, moving them to the front of the line - regardless of the severity of the charge - if they were involved with a gang, had prior handgun or aggravated assault charges, or had been shot at or witnessed a violent crime, among other criteria.
"It's not the warrant itself that makes them a priority," Adkins said. "It's the individual."
Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said it is part of an evolving effort to curb violence through arrests. In the 1980s, he said, police determined violent offenders were best snapped up through drug arrests. Later, they focused greater attention on individuals charged in homicides and nonfatal shootings who were still on the streets.
But Bealefeld said that many crime victims have open warrants - largely minor offenses that need to be served anyway and which could also help defuse volatile situations. Homicide suspects, at-risk juveniles and domestic-violence offenders remain top police concerns, but police say the new formula has helped them prioritize those lesser warrants.
"I'm trying to avoid more violence in this city on every front possible," Bealefeld said. "If it keeps kids from being victims of homicide, I want to do that. If its finding more suspects quickly, I want to do that. We need to attack violence, and in our lane we're going to use everything at our disposal."
Adkins and his team head out each day before dawn, hoping to catch suspects off-guard. Their loud knocking causes more than a few curious neighbors to pop their heads out of bedroom windows to see what the commotion is about.
The detectives scour records in an attempt to find possible addresses. They reach out to grandparents, girlfriends, neighbors. And they let them know they'll be back.
"Turn him in, and we'll stop coming," Detective Mark Honaker told one relative.
One of the suspects taken into custody yesterday was Richard Bailey, 19. His warrant for a failure to appear seems relatively innocuous. But detectives note that he was carrying a colostomy bag at the time of his arrest, made necessary by injuries sustained when he was shot about six months ago.
"Maybe the best place for this guy is in jail," Adkins said. "While the ball is in our court, we're going to do what we can to prevent him from being a victim or suspect."
Serving warrants is an arduous task. Offenders often provide false addresses at the time of their arrests, and those who tell the truth live nomadic existences and may be hard to find anyway.
Consider this scenario from a visit to the home of a suspect's mother in Carrollton Ridge: His girlfriend answered the door but said they were no longer together. She claimed he now was dating a woman from across the street but that the new couple had moved away - location unknown. She noted, however, that she had gone to court with the now ex-boyfriend just last week.
Another woman, answering the door to her Cherry Hill home at 6:30 a.m., the odor of marijuana hanging in the air, was incredulous that police were back looking for a suspect she had never met.
"I've been living here for three years, and y'all been knocking on my door for three years," she said. "Don't come back Saturday, it's my birthday."
Though the warrant sweeps can be hit-or-miss, the officers made a handful of arrests yesterday, including Robert Dix, 48, who was being sought on a traffic warrant. It is unclear why he made the priority list, but Dix seemed unfazed as he was led through a haze of cigarette smoke and out of a Mount Clare rowhouse in plastic handcuffs.
"What's goin' on, Bob-o?" his girlfriend's sister asked.
"I'll be out tomorrow," he said.