McNulty: You been waiting for crime lab?
Holly: Over an hour. Only two units on the street, and both of them are up at the City Council President’s house.
McNulty: What happened there?
Holly: Someone stole his lawn furniture. They’re up there taking pictures of an empty patio, dusting the backyard gate for latents. I kid you not.
Norris: I swear to God, you show me the son of a bitch who can fix this police department, I’d give back half my overtime.
This little piece of collective griping between three homicide detectives is one of the earliest glimpses that The Wire gives into the upper reaches of the city’s hierarchy. This is the stratum of existence where even the usually-exalted Burrell is just a lowly errand boy dancing around to accomodate the whims of the politicians who hold his fate in their hands.
It is bad enough that Baltimore is a poor city with limited resources. This scene provides a story that shows how easily those limited resources get diverted into the investigation of a minor theft at the house of the City Council President (who could probably afford to buy himself another set of lawn furniture pretty easily). It is funny to imagine not one, but two crime lab units scurrying around this mansion, taking pictures and dusting for fingerprints.
But the image is equally tragic and offensive, especially when measured against the present crime. The investigation into Brandon’s murder has to be put on hold, even though the first minutes of an investigation are by far the most crucial for gathering evidence. After the abduction, the torture and the murder, Brandon has to endure this one final indignity–he is left lying out under a tarp, going ripe as the police hunt down a couple of chaise loungers.
The scene ends with a final, comic note. It is a lament of these affairs, spoken by Detective Ed Norris, who is played by Ed Norris, the actual Baltimore Commissioner when this episode aired. The fictional Norris (or is it the real one?) bemoans this system that ignores the powerful and unconnected at the behest of the powerful. This comment that suggests that the problems with Baltimore go so deep that even the man in charge of the system can’t fix it. After all, there is always somebody higher, and their needs always come before those of the poor saps who only have corpses in their backyard.