Guitar as Police Weapon ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

December 15, 1992

"Community policing" is the buzz word of today's law enforcement. Countless consultants are working overtime, advising local police departments how they could become more responsive to broader societal concerns rather than just responding to 911 calls and arresting people. That's what many foot patrolmen used to do in the old days, when life was slower and simpler.

Community policing -- whether it is a declared policy or an informal goal -- is only as good as officers on the beat, however. Some have the inborn sensitivity and street smarts to give that extra dimension to problem-solving that makes the difference.

Officer Brian D. Smith, recently named as Police Officer of the Year in Anne Arundel County's Eastern District, showed that knack last spring when summoned to deal with a violent teen-ager. Angered by the not-guilty verdict in the Los Angeles beating of Rodney King, the Severna Park area youth had smashed up his parents' home with a guitar before police arrived.

The officers tried to calm him, but "he wouldn't even acknowledge that we were there," Officer Smith recalled. "But then I saw the guitar and figured maybe that was his hobby. It turns out it's the only thing he wanted to talk about."

The next day, Officer Smith returned to the youth's home -- with a guitar he had kept in his own home. A problem was not entirely solved, perhaps, but at least it was temporarily alleviated, enabling more sustained reconciliation efforts.

Observing that kind of effort, Sgt. Cleveland E. Smith described Officer Smith as "a social worker with a side arm."

Perhaps that kind of understanding comes from the 26-year-old policeman's background. Raised in Linthicum and educated at Archbishop Spalding High School, he knows the county's people and its problems. He instinctively realizes that the once-rural jurisdiction has experienced such a rapid pace of growth and urbanization that cultures and values often are in explosive conflict.

Officer Smith got his law enforcement training and early experience in Baltimore City. "It was an eye opener," he says. "It was out of control." He appreciates Anne Arundel's slower pace -- and the opportunities it affords to a police officer determined to take his time to solve problems.

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