A police officer’s day can change in an instant.
While on patrol Thursday afternoon, county police officer Dominick Grossi ran the license plate on a black Ford Expedition in Brooklyn Park and found the tag was suspended for emissions violations. After smelling a faint hint of marijuana, he checked the driver’s license and learned the Curtis Bay man had a conviction for drug possession.
But Grossi didn’t search the vehicle, partly because he said he wants a stronger hint of marijuana, but also because no officers were nearby for backup. And as soon as he finished explaining his reasoning, he received word he was needed to assist at two calls for people threatening to commit suicide.
“Just like that, you get busy,” Grossi said, after handing the warning to the Expedition’s driver.
But that’s part of the reason Grossi, a patrolman first class who has spent all of his 4-½ years in the northern district, said he likes his job.
“It’s really diverse,” he said. “It’s busy. I can’t sit around and do nothing. Most of us can’t.”
Like most of the officers on patrol, Grossi works one of two shifts. Officers work for six days and get three off. The shifts are from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and then they switch to the 3 to 11 p.m. shift. The midnight shift is staffed by officers who do not rotate.
The day can bring anything. Grossi has a sector for which he is primarily responsible: the eastern side of Ritchie Highway in Brooklyn Park, from the city line to just south of Church Street. Occasionally, he needs to help another officer elsewhere in Brooklyn Park, or even go outside the community, like to the suicidal subject calls, one in Glen Burnie and one in Ferndale.
The man at the center of the first possible suicide appeared to be fine, and other officers were there, so Grossi headed to the second one. A 15-year-old girl threatened to harm herself, so she was taken to a hospital for an emergency evaluation, and the officers wrote a report, Grossi said.
When Grossi is patrolling, he said he tries to concentrate on looking for drugs and makes sure he checks around Park Elementary School and the Brooklyn Park library. And then, the first call came in: a staff member at the library believed two young men, one black and one white, were acting suspiciously.
“You heard the description. A black male and a white male. That’s not great. I don’t like to stop someone because they’re black,” he said.
Grossi found out he knew one of the men from a previous encounter and told him why he was called. The men were using their smartphones and not doing anything, he said. The man whom Grossi had encountered told him he thought the incident was funny.
Heading out to Ritchie Highway, Grossi clearly knows the community. He points out areas with which he said the police have had drug and prostitution issues, such as the adjacent Park Plaza and Budget Plaza motels.
“A lot of our problems stem from those hotels. We do our best, but it’s a problem,” Grossi said.
A man who would only say he was a manager at the two motels denied Friday his businesses were a problem. The manager said he doesn’t want crime on his properties and said he cooperates with the police.
“We haven’t had an arrest here for at least six months on the property. Every single person arrested here has been banned from the property,” the manager said.
And just as Grossi said he doesn’t like to stop someone based only on race, he said it’s also important not to make assumptions about one neighborhood over another. Crimes don’t occur solely in rowhome neighborhoods, he said.
“I’ve talked to a lot of good, hardworking people. They live here, they bought their house years ago, and for whatever reason, they can’t go any place else,” he said as he drove through Belle Grove.
Grossi said it’s hard to predict what a typical day is like.
“I guess a typical day is a slow day, but then you have others where you can’t get a drink of water or go to the bathroom,” he said.
Grossi also said he can’t let the behavior of people being arrested, ticketed or cited affect him. Sometimes, people acknowledge they did something wrong. Other times, they’ve threatened his family or to kill him, he said.
That’s why he runs every license plate and driver’s license through his in-car computer after pulling someone over.
“You run everybody. It doesn’t matter what they look like. You’d be surprised what comes off a simple brake light (violation,)” he said, after pulling over a woman who had a burned-out brake light. “She could be a black belt in karate.”
That’s why officers need the support of the public, said Carl Brooks, president of the Northern District Police Community Relations Council, who has accompanied officers on ride-alongs. Drugs can alter someone’s mind in unexpected ways, making arrests difficult, he said.
“Those drugs can put you into that state. You are not that same docile girl or guy. Young people don’t realize that,” Brooks said. “When you use drugs, it changes the chemicals of the body. People think, ‘Oh, he’s high. Let him sleep it off.’ Well, sometimes you can, and sometimes you can’t.”