City police are investigating why on-duty marine and helicopter officers helped a Baltimore County state delegate propose to his girlfriend by pretending to raid a boat the couple were aboard, a department spokesman said Monday.
Officers boarded the boat, owned by a friend of Del. Jon S. Cardin, on Aug. 7 in the Inner Harbor. As the helicopter Foxtrot hovered overhead, adding to the sense of tension, one report says officers pretended to search the vessel and even had the woman thinking she was about to be handcuffed before the delegate got on one knee and proposed.
Megan Homer said "yes."
Baltimore police officials did not find the account of the pretend raid amusing or charming.
Police said they are investigating what appears to be a misuse of police resources at a time when the budget-strapped department is begging for private donations to keep its horseback unit running and is immersed in investigating the latest violence at the Inner Harbor - a double shooting inside the Light Street Pavilion at Harborplace over the weekend. Residents and visitors have complained that police presence is thin at best.
"Definitely there was some poor judgment exercised by some officers," said Anthony Guglielmi, the Police Department's chief spokesman. "The Police Department is not in the business of renting out the helicopter and the boats for bachelor parties and birthdays. We're in the business of upholding public safety in Baltimore."
Del. Curtis S. "Curt" Anderson, D-Baltimore and chairman of the city delegation to Annapolis, said he is appalled by the apparent indiscretion and angry that officers both in the air and on the water diverted from their primary mission of protecting citizens against crime.
"How in the world did he get something like that?" Anderson said of Cardin, also a Democrat. "If I wanted to do this myself, I wouldn't have the first clue as to how to get that accomplished. This is totally astonishing that a state delegate, especially one from Baltimore County, could commandeer the forces of the Baltimore City Police Department like that. It's a big waste of the city's money if that actually happened."
Cardin, an attorney who represents Northwest Baltimore and is the nephew of U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, did not return several calls Monday.
In a statement, Delegate Cardin gave a toned-down account of the proposal, reported Friday in the Gazette newspapers, which dealt with the news as a whimsical "reporters notebook" item. Cardin described the actions by police as a "5-minute safety check." He did not mention the helicopter, which police confirmed was used.
Cardin's statement says that during the "fuss" of the police involvement, "I surprised her with my proposal and she honored me with her answer of 'yes.' " It continued: "During the evening, I was focused on making my fiancee's night perfect. In retrospect, I should have considered that city resources would be involved and used better judgment to put a stop to it."
The delegate promised to contact Baltimore police and to "reimburse the city for whatever costs they deem appropriate."
The Gazette article says Cardin and a friend dreamed up the idea. It is not clear who made the request to Baltimore police for help with the surprise; Guglielmi said that no one in the command staff was aware that police resources were being used.
He said that the marine unit - whose members complained earlier this year that the city was endangering the public by grounding them over the winter and spring because of budget cuts - was patrolling the water at the time the mock raid was conducted, and that the helicopter was already flying over the harbor area.
"There was no drain on the resources of the department," Guglielmi said, adding that the financial cost to citizens is negligible because the officers were already in the area and on duty. But the spokesman did say the officers should not have allowed themselves to be distracted from their duties for a friend or a politician. A figure for how much it costs per hour to keep the helicopter flying was not available Monday.
"Most officers want to help out and engage with the public," Guglielmi said, though he readily admitted that helping a politician with a surprise party is not the same as letting a civilian pet a horse or allowing a child to sit in a patrol car. "I think there was no malice with this. I think the officers were trying to be good stewards in the department, but I don't think good judgment was used."
The Gazette article, headlined "Police: There weren't more important things to do," makes light of the proposal and says that, "With the help of a friend, Cardin concocted a plan to surprise his girlfriend" and that "even the hubby-to-be wasn't in on all the details."
According to the article, officers pretended to search the boat and found a box that they suspected contained contraband.
They ordered the soon-to-be fiancee to turn around as if they were about to handcuff her, according the report, and then she saw Cardin "on bended knee" and holding the ring that had been in the box.
The Gazette reported that Cardin was the "toast" of a convention of government leaders in Ocean City this past weekend for his "imaginative marriage proposal."