Baltimore police are investigating an incident in which an officer was flagged down by a firefighter who’d seen a man with a gun downtown — but the officer declined to respond.
An off-duty firefighter and two “fire buffs” — hobbyists who listen to emergency scanners and drive to fires to record them — were driving downtown about 2:30 a.m. July 6 when a man carrying a gun in his waistband walked in front of their van, police said Monday. The trio had a dashboard camera running and watched as the man ditched the gun into some bushes near Lexington and St. Paul streets.
The firefighter called 911 to report the man, and circled back to park and put headlights on the bushes to help police when officers arrived. They then saw the man return to the area. Fearing he might retrieve the gun and shoot at them, the three drove off and called 911 again. They drove until they found a police officer on a nearby block and reported the incident.
Her response: This is not my district.
Baltimore interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle called the incident an “embarrassment.”
“Totally unacceptable,” he said.
Police have not yet identified the officer.
The report comes just days after USA Today published an article that reviewed three years of city dispatch reports and found a decline in the number of reports of criminal activity that were witnessed by officers, leading Tuggle to acknowledge that the police force has been “not as aggressive as they once were.”
Police have defended the effectiveness of their policing by pointing out that violent crime declined last year, but admit officers need to be more proactive and eager to do their jobs.
Tuggle said Monday that he believes accountability was lacking with front-line officers and their immediate supervisors, and he said those ranks need more training.
“Everyone in this city deserves a police force that’s responsive,” he said. “Officers generally do want to do their job. … However, this was particularly disturbing to me.”
Police said a patrol officer ultimately did respond to the 911 call, and the fire buff said a patrol car arrived about 10 minutes later. Police said the gun was recovered in the bushes later that day. Police spokesman T.J. Smith said there were no violent crimes with guns reported in the nearby vicinity minutes before the firefighter and fire buffs encountered the man.
“It doesn’t mean [something] didn’t happen elsewhere,” Smith said. “But it didn’t happen in that general area.”
Police showed a copy of the dashcam video at a news conference on Monday. On the video, firefighters can be heard calling in a description of the man. In the video, the van can be seen approaching a group of parked police cars.
“Hey can you help me out?” the firefighter said to the first officer he saw. “There’s a guy who just dumped a gun. I just called it in twice. It took them forever to respond. It’s right there at St. Paul and Lexington.”
“This isn’t my district,” the officer says.
The gun sighting occurred in the police department’s Central District. It’s not known what district the officer who failed to respond was from or what she was doing.
“You wear this uniform and this badge,” Tuggle said at the news conference. “It says Baltimore City and you have the responsibility to serve any place in the city.”
Tuggle thanked the firefighter and the fire buffs.
“As citizens, they did exactly what we ask them to do,” Tuggle said. “At the end of the day, when we receive information like that, we have an obligation — a duty, a duty — to respond to it.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.