The Associated Press
BALTIMORE- The fatal shooting of an off-duty Baltimore police officer underscores the brazen violence faced by police and residents alike in a city with one of the highest violent crime rates in the country.
Just nine days into the new year, Baltimore had recorded 10 homicides, and the shooting of Detective Troy Chesley Sr. - the third armed attack against a city officer in three months - has raised fears that even police aren't safe from the upswing in violence.
Lt. Paul Blair, Jr., president of the city police union, said many criminals seem to have no fear of police and won't hesitate to kill, even when carrying out petty crimes.
"I've seen them kill for minor street robberies of ten dollars, and they kill the person because they looked at them wrong," he said.
On Tuesday, police arrested Brandon Grimes, 21, charging him with first-degree murder in Chesley's death after he got off work at 1 a.m. Tuesday. Grimes was badly wounded in the leg in the shootout, and police tracked him down at St. Agnes Hospital where he was being treated under guard.
Grimes - who had been scheduled to begin a trial on gun charges Wednesday - has been arrested 17 times in recent years, prompting grieving and angry police officials to express outrage that he wasn't in jail.
Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm said law enforcement agencies are often are at odds with each other as they grapple with high crime rates. He said they must take a hard look at a system that allows people like Grimes to roam the streets.
"We need to stop being petty," Hamm said. "We need to put our egos at the door and concentrate on people like Brandon Grimes."
Baltimore finished 2006 with 275 homicides, up six from the year before.
Blair said too many officers may believe they have "cheated death another day" when their shifts end, only to forget about late-night dangers on city streets when they're going home.
"It just seems maybe our guys just can't stop dropping their guard when they finish up their day," he said.
Last month, officer Momudu Gondo was wounded during what authorities believe was a robbery attempt as he got out of his car near his home in Northeast Baltimore. Police arrested a suspect about a week later. Gondo, who returned fire at his assailants, was wearing a ballistic vest and survived the shooting.
In November, Sgt. Christopher Nyberg managed to disarm a would-be robber who held a knife to his throat, Blair said. Nyberg shot two of the four people who tried to rob him as he was walking home.
In September, Officer Robert Cirello was shot while on patrol. He was wearing body armor and survived.
Chesley, 34, had just gotten off work and was not in uniform when he arrived at his girlfriend's home in West Baltimore. Chesley was a 13-year-veteran who worked in a unit assigned to patrol public housing.
In the last 3 1/2 years, Grimes had been charged with handgun, drug and car theft crimes and mostly avoided lengthy jail time, except for a six-month sentence for violating probation in 2005. He posted $45,000 bail in March to get out of jail on one handgun charge. He then got out of jail again a month later on $100,000 bail.
His trial on the gun charges had been scheduled to begin Wednesday in Baltimore Circuit Court. On the second handgun charge, prosecutors had recommended $500,000 bail, saying Grimes posed a danger to the community.
Col. Frederick Bealefeld, chief of the police department's detective unit, angrily pointed out that police had risked their lives twice before to take guns away from Grimes - only to see him get another gun and murder "one of our brothers" a day before his trial.
"This is the sort of mayhem and craziness that we see all to often," Bealefeld said.
Chesley, who received a commendation in 1998 for leading several people from a burning building, also appeared in a 2005 police DVD called "Keep Talking." The DVD, which was distributed around the city, was designed to counter a DVD made by drug dealers titled "Stop Snitching."
The street video was made to discourage residents from talking to police.