Community Policing Tries to Cope

September 06, 1992

Ten years ago, Baltimore County Police Chief Cornelius J. "Neil" Behan put his department at the forefront of the community policing movement by establishing the county's Community Oriented Policing Enforcement (COPE) program.

COPE is still involved in innovative attempts to reduce fear and increase activism among residents of troubled communities. For evidence, see the project in which two COPE officers spend at least four days a week at a house in the east county neighborhood of Garden Village. The project exemplifies the community policing tenet that preventive medicine is the best cure for America's crime ills.

This isn't COPE's first foray into Garden Village. One of the program's earliest efforts a decade ago led to a reduction in local crime, re-paved alleys, a new basketball court and repaired streetlights.

That work, though, was made possible by the kind of county funding now tough to find. Although many politicians and law enforcement officials -- including Bill Clinton -- have caught the community policing bug from people like Chief Behan, they concede it can't work without extra staffing.

Faced with shrinking budgets, police forces already have had to put detectives and laboratory technicians on street patrols. By financial necessity, labor-intensive community policing has been shoved to the back burner or introduced more slowly than intended, as in Baltimore City. The pioneering COPE program has even had to cut back, from three county-wide units with 45 staffers to two units with 26 members.

Community policing faces other obstacles. Many police officers feel it amounts to social work degrading to hard-nosed cops who base their worth on fast response to crimes and arrest counts. Some in the police community also bemoan the impact of taking staffers away from investigation units and putting them on community units. While community police might grab great media play, the critics say, investigators do the unglamorous, behind-the-scenes work that cracks cases.

Neil Behan and other police chiefs dream of forces that can complement traditional crime-solving with new and worthy concepts like community policing. But the recession's effects on government budgets have put that dream on hold. For now, police departments must cope as best they can.

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