On a block where violence occurs regularly, near the spot where a boy was recently gunned down, a Baltimore police officer gave a wide smile as a young mother and her small daughter stepped outside onto a nearby stoop.
Officer Daisha Simms, there to help with a police-led community cleanup, said hello to the little girl by name, the mother smiled and said hello back, and the two women began to exchange pleasantries.
Then Simms’ radio crackled with the voice of another officer just a few blocks north: “Shots fired!”
Suddenly, the cleanup in the 900 block of Bennett Place in Harlem Park was on hold, as a half-dozen officers rushed out of trash-filled alleys, jumped into their cars and sped up the street.
Moments later, off Pitcher Street near North Fremont Avenue, a young man was being handcuffed.
Police said the man, 21, had arranged to buy a cellphone from two women on Facebook, then pulled a gun on them and announced a robbery in the women’s car in the 900 block of Arlington Ave., just across Fremont from Pitcher. The man allegedly struck one of the women with the handgun during the incident, causing minor injuries, before jumping out of the vehicle, police said.
The woman driving the vehicle then attempted to flee and hit the man with her car, and the man fired shots at the women, police said. Officers in the area who heard the shots spotted the man running out of an alley and arrested him, police said.
The young man, who was not identified pending the filing of charges, was walked to a nearby police van with plastic bags wrapped around his hands — a measure commonly taken to preserve any gunshot residue on the hands of arrestees suspected of recently firing a gun.
A few minutes later, back in the 900 block of Bennett, Maj. Sheree Briscoe — the Western District commander — stood with a representative of the city’s public works department and discussed the importance of a holistic approach to violence in certain neighborhoods that also struggle with trash, vacant homes and overgrowth.
“Some of those elements become something of a recipe for challenges for everyone, not just for police,” she said. “We recognize and identify the challenges in the community to include the vacant houses, to include the trash, and to include the tree lines and the shrubs and the grass.”
The cleanup followed a special warrant initiative in the area that led to 20 arrests. Both efforts followed the fatal Aug. 22 shooting of 15-year-old Jeffrey Quick around the corner from where Briscoe stood. She said they were part of a broader effort to respond to citizen concerns about the Harlem Park neighborhood, where a second 15-year-old boy, Tyrese Davis, also was killed last month.
“What are we doing here? It’s the obvious,” Briscoe said. “It’s all hands on deck. We all have a responsibility to public safety.”
Across the street, blue balloons in Jeffrey Quick’s memory hung half-deflated along with a stuffed bear from the side of a corner store. Burned-down candles stood on the sidewalk next to empty liquor bottles.
“Love you baby boy,” read one message scrawled on the wall.
“At the end of the day, we’re all going to be held — and we should be — accountable and responsible for the work that we’re doing out here in the community,” Briscoe said. “So where there’s public safety issues, and systemic ones, we want to take a different, holistic approach. We want to kind of step back from a different lens and look at all of the challenges that a community is faced with and figure out as a city entity how we can come together and partner and collaborate to address those problems.”