The two dozen or so residents from South Baltimore's Riverside neighborhood turned off Light Street and onto Heath, a parade of people confronting crime and grime. It was a routine Citizens on Patrol walk, a central part of the Police Department's outreach to residents.
Two people, a man and a woman strung out on drugs, simply wouldn't leave. Warned to move on, they came back. Finally, as residents watched and patience wore thin, Sgt. John Kowalczyk sat the couple on a curb on Heath Street and slapped on the cuffs. The charge: disorderly conduct.
"Didn't I tell you to move?" the sergeant said.
"I'm in recovery. I come out looking for my friend," the woman answered, explaining that she had just suffered a relapse.
Maj. Scott Bloodsworth, the commander of the Southern District, stood over the sitting suspects, but he was in no mood to listen to the people who'd disrupted his walk with residents.
"Of all days to relapse, you picked today," he told her.
To the officers, the arrests abated a problem for the night. The two are safely locked up for a few hours, though the case won't stick, probably won't even get by the prosecutor on initial review, and will likely become another statistic of another arrest deemed unsuitable for formal charges.
To the residents, the arrests removed two known troublemakers from the street, and the officers did just what law-abiding homeowners expect them to do. They had spent the evening pointing out problems to the police, and right in front of their eyes, the police took care of one of them.
"Everyone recognizes that the way the system works, they will likely be back on the street in a matter of hours," said Shannon Sullivan, the crime chairwoman of the Riverside Neighborhood Association. "But we made it known to him we know who he is and that we don't appreciate his behavior. The more we do that, the more we hope he will move someplace else. You see the same people out there causing trouble day after day."
Any debate over whether the busts of these two addicts - who weren't found with any drugs - helps curb crime or is meaningless in the bigger picture can come another day. Police will defend the arrests as necessary for the moment; prosecutors will no doubt toss them out, regarding them as overreach by law enforcement, another minor crime unnecessarily clogging the already crowded court docket.
But there's another twist to this brief and seemingly insignificant encounter. When the sergeant stood the man up in his cuffs, Bloodsworth immediately recognized him.
He lives in a house in the Sharp-Leadenhall neighborhood, sandwiched between Federal Hill and the sports stadiums, in a house where police believe another man was headed when he was shot and killed Sept. 13 on West Cross Street. The shooting occurred about 4:20 a.m., just hours before the Ravens' season-opening kickoff against the Chiefs, just hours before thousands of fans streamed by the shooting scene, most with no idea of what had happened.
Bloodsworth said the victim had just gotten out of prison after serving 10 years on a drug charge and was headed back to his old haunts when he was gunned down. The arrest on Heath Street, about a dozen blocks south of Cross Street, gave the major another chance to press someone who might know something about the killing, another chance to show him that police haven't forgot.
It also demonstrates the unseen ties between serious crime (which officers battle neighborhood by neighborhood), the perception that crime is out of control (which City Hall battles over and over) and merely irksome behavior (which residents battle block by block).