All year long — and for too many years now — gunshots ring out in the city of Baltimore, at least two volleys a day. It has happened more than 700 times in 2020, leaving hundreds of men and women bleeding and suffering on sidewalks and streets, many of them in poor, half-abandoned neighborhoods to the east and west of downtown. When police officers arrive, the victims they find might be dead or dying — there’s roughly a one-in-three chance of that — and even more might die if not for the first aid the officers render.
On a recent Tuesday night in West Baltimore, the veteran Alexis Torres and the rookie Mason Coursey helped save the life of a 37-year-old man who, for reasons unknown, had been shot multiple times and left for dead.
It’s part of the job, of course, and not something usually highlighted in the daily reports of Baltimore’s ongoing misery — the fact that police officers are the first responders to shootings and their job is to treat victims until medics from the Baltimore City Fire Department arrive.
The intensified national focus on issues with policing — racial disparities in enforcement, the use of deadly force, the militarization of departments, powerful unions and outdated statutes that protect bad cops — is important and necessary. But it’s also important and necessary for citizens to appreciate the working day of the average cop — the men and women who act professionally and try to do the job right, who do the hard and messy things that, judging from the recruitment numbers of recent years, fewer Americans appear willing to do.
And so, as another violent Baltimore year comes to a close, here are Torres and Coursey and one moment from the 3-to-11 shift in the Western District on Dec. 15.
It was around 6 p.m. when Torres, sitting in his patrol car near a store in the 2400 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, heard several shots, and he could tell where they were coming from. He saw people running out of Cumberland Street half a block away. He reported the shooting on his radio and drove around the corner. People scattered in front of him, and, as they did, Torres saw a man lying in the middle of the street, and he wasn’t moving.
A car with its lights off came up Cumberland toward him and Torres had a thought about stopping it, but he was the only officer on the scene so he let the car go and turned his attention to the victim.
Torres is 37 years old and 6-foot-6. He spent more than 14 years as an officer in San Juan, Puerto Rico, before joining the Baltimore Police Department three and a half years ago. He’s seen plenty of shooting victims.
“One down,” Torres added to his report from Cumberland Street. Two blocks away, Coursey heard the call in his patrol car, hit the lights and siren and headed for the scene.
Torres heard the victim moan and say he couldn’t breathe. There was plenty of blood. The man had been shot in the chest and in his left leg. Coursey arrived and found Torres with his hand on the victim’s chest and a finger in a bullet hole. Coursey pulled the scissors from the first aid kit strapped to his leg and started cutting the victim’s shirt away.
Coursey is 28 years old, a native of Kent Island on the Eastern Shore. An August graduate of the police academy, he is part of an above average recruitment year for the Baltimore Police Department. He finished his 10-week field training in November. Cumberland Street was the first time he worked on a shooting victim.
“Get a chest seal,” Torres said, telling Coursey to pull from his kit a round plastic sticker to close the victim’s sucking chest wound. Torres pressed the seal against the man’s chest, but there was a lot of blood, too much for the seal’s adhesive to take hold.
Torres told Coursey to open another one, then used some gauze to dry the area around the wound. Torres applied the second seal and it stuck hard against the man’s chest and filled the wound.
Next, Torres wanted a tourniquet for the victim’s upper left leg, and that came from Coursey’s kit, too. The rookie had some trouble getting the tourniquet to work. It was too loose, for starters, but Torres showed him how to adjust it, and they got it right.
Medics arrived and took the victim to Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Coursey followed them there. He watched as surgeons and nurses worked on the man from Cumberland Street. He had a collapsed lung, and a bullet had smashed his left femur, the big thigh bone. The Shock Trauma team found two other bullet wounds, one in the man’s buttocks, the other in his right leg.
“He’s going to make it,” someone from the surgical team told Coursey, and then it was back to shift duty for the young officer. Torres went back to his detail. Detectives took over the shooting investigation. There have been no arrests in the case, and we all know how that goes by now. Even when they lay dying, some shooting victims refuse to tell the police anything about their killers or why they were shot. And some, like the man from Cumberland Street, refuse to help the cops even as the cops help save their lives.