CT reporter goes on patrol with Lorain police

With hot weather, more people outside and students out of school, July and August are traditionally the busiest months for the Lorain Police Department. Overnight shifts on the weekend are often the busiest time. To give readers a better idea how police cope during busy shifts, reporter Evan Goodenow spent about eight hours riding along with officers overnight this weekend.

LORAIN — The bar fight at Gil’s International Lounge on East 28th Street was over by the time police Officer Wesley Fordyce arrived around 1:25 a.m. Saturday, but the night was still young. Minutes after Fordyce arrived, he was soon back in his cruiser heading to the possible shooting of a 16-year-old in the 800 block of West 17th Street.

Police Officer Christopher Colon frisks a suspect during a drug-related traffic stop on West 20th Street about 1:30 a.m. Sunday. Seated is William Malone, who police said was carrying a small amount of crack cocaine. (CT photo by Evan Goodenow.)

Police Officer Christopher Colon frisks a suspect during a drug-related traffic stop on West 20th Street about 1:30 a.m. Sunday. Seated is William Malone, who police said was carrying a small amount of crack cocaine. (CT photo by Evan Goodenow.)

“Welcome to the weekend,” Fordyce said as he headed to the crime scene with a caravan of cruisers at 70 mph with lights and sirens activated. Patrol work is often feast or famine, but officers like Fordyce usually find themselves bouncing from call to call overnight on weekends.

Through Friday morning, officers had responded to 33,482 calls so far this year, according to Lorain police. That compares with 29,501 at the same time last year, an approximately 13.5 percent increase. July was the busiest month this year with 5,640 calls.

Many of the calls were routine — earlier, Fordyce had counseled a suicidal female and checked out a suspicious car parked in the driveway of a vacant home — but shooting calls are the most serious. Around 3:30 a.m. Friday, Officer Craig Payne apprehended city resident Brandon Atkinson at gunpoint after Atkinson allegedly shot a man in the foot.

Nearly 24 hours later, Payne, a 32-year-old officer who joined the department in 2005, tried to sort out the details of the latest incident from the woozy 16-year-old who was bleeding from the head.

“Is that a bullet wound or did you get pistol whipped?” Payne asked the boy as they sit in an ambulance.

The boy told Payne he was pistol whipped and then shot at as he ran. A bloody handprint was on the porch of the house in the 1600 block of Washington Avenue that the boy ran through as he fled.

“I heard a boom-boom, and he just ran up on my porch,” a woman at the house told police. “There’s blood all over the place.”

The boy said the shooters accused him of shooting into a house earlier in the day which he denied. Witnesses said the boy has a bounty of “75 stacks” on his head.

Stacks is slang for bindles of heroin, which have an approximately $20 street value, meaning the bounty is about $1,600. “Seventy-five bindles is a lot for a heroin addict, or you could sell it,” Fordyce said.

The incident was one of about 20 calls Fordyce had responded to since his shift officially began at 6 p.m. Fordyce also handled eight calls between 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on overtime.

Patrol officers work 12-hour shifts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. On Saturday night, there were 10 officers on patrol including a rookie riding with a field training officer. The department, which is hiring nine new officers, has 91 officers but about 20 unfilled positions due to budget constraints.

Fordyce — a 34-year-old officer who joined Lorain police last year after eight years as a Cleveland Clinic police officer — said this summer seems busier than last year. He predicted that the department will probably exceed the 49,963 calls responded to last year.

“For the size of our city, we have an immense call volume,” Fordyce said. “We’ve had a lot more shootings, felonious assaults and stabbings than we did last year.”

During slow periods, Fordyce tries to be proactive. He advised a suspected prostitute walking on Oberlin Avenue near West 16th Street to go home, warning her that two women were recently assaulted in the area. He reluctantly told youths playing basketball in the playground at Washington Elementary School to leave. Fordyce would prefer to let them play, but a city ordinance forbids people from being on school grounds when school’s out.

“When they’re playing ball and having a good time they’re not shooting each other up,” he said. “Sometimes you hate to send them back to their homes because they don’t have a home life.”

Around 4 a.m., 15 or 16 shots were fired from a vehicle at another car in the 1300 block of West 14th Street, but the shooter was long gone when police arrived. Because 911 calls must be routed from county dispatchers to local dispatchers before officers get information, Fordyce said it’s tough to catch drive-by shooters.

“Sometimes it seems like we’re going all night chasing those guys,” he said. “We’ll be chasing shadows all night.”

Saturday night ended with shots fired in a domestic dispute around 11:55 p.m. in the 100 block of West 23rd Street. Angry about her husband going to a bar, an Akron resident told officers she snatched the keys from his car. He followed her to her car and demanded them back. The wife, who was charged with domestic violence and illegally discharging a firearm, admitted she pulled out a .32-caliber semiautomatic pistol and fired two shots in the air as she and her husband argued.

“Fun, fun, fun, another gun,” said Officer Corey Middlebrooks as officers searched for the shell casings. Middlebrooks, a narcotics officer, said the pistol was the fourth gun police seized last week.

Middlebrooks, a 42-year-old officer who joined the department in 1998, and his partner, Christopher Colon, ride in an unmarked vehicle and back up patrol officers on serious calls such as the shooting incident. However, their primary job is narcotics interdiction. As they drove around the west side of the city early Sunday morning, they pointed out several drug houses they helped shut down.

Narcotics officers have been nicknamed “the jump out boys” by local drug dealers for quickly getting out of their unmarked vehicle to make street arrests. They play a cat and mouse game with drug dealers, shifting their work schedules to keep the dealers on their toes.

“Our road guys do a hell of a job, but they don’t have the time to just sit and watch a drug house,” said Colon, a 37-year-old officer who joined the department in 1999. “The minute we leave and neglect this area, things start happening.”

On a traffic stop of a suspected drug dealer on West 20th Street around 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Middlebrooks pulled William T. Malone out of the passenger side of a pickup truck. He recognized Malone — a 38-year-old city resident with an extensive criminal record — from a recent drug house raid.

“Did you spit the dope out?” Middlebrooks asked Malone. “You got a mouth full of crack!”

Middlebrooks recovered a rock of crack about the size of a baby’s tooth that Malone allegedly tried to swallow. Malone is due in Lorain Municipal Court this morning on cocaine possession, possession of drug paraphernalia and tampering with evidence charges.

While the department is short on officers and long on calls, officers like Fordyce said they enjoy working nights. Fordyce said he took a big pay cut after leaving the Cleveland Clinic, but likes patrolling his hometown and working with fellow officers whom he said he trusts with his life.

“We get paid a lot less than other departments and do a s—load more work than they do,” he said. “You’re here because you want to be.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.

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