The police union's scare ad

January 12, 1993

The Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police has put in an early bid to cop the local award for Most Fear-Mongering Political Ad of 1993.

In case you've missed this subtle gem, the police union radio commercial that has recently aired on local stations features screaming sirens, screaming humans and such overblown lines as "Robberies, murders, rapes. . . That's life in Baltimore County today."

Who scripted this stuff -- Stephen King?

True, crime is up in the county, as is anxiety over crime. Last year in the county, a record number of murders was committed and violent crime increased, though by only around 2 percent. Experts attribute these developments to increasing urbanization and the shrinking pool of funds for police, social services and other essential as well as non-essential items of county life. Still, Baltimore County is hardly the House of Horrors that the FOP ad makes it out to be.

The reason for the ad, of course, is to scare county residents into pressuring County Executive Roger Hayden, the County Council and other local officials to spare the police department from further budget cuts.

No one can deny the department is hurting from past cuts. It's understaffed by more than 100. Patrol officers have parked their cars and walked to save gas. Police from detective units, crime labs and crime-prevention teams have transferred to street duty so the department can keep up street patrols. Many cops moonlight to make ends meet.

FOP officials say they're concerned these measures will cause a rise in local crime. Why, then, do they run a radio ad whose intention is apparently to frighten citizens who, as the FOP knows all too well, are already feeling pretty antsy about crime?

Elected officials are understandably upset with the ad. After all, the executive and the County Council broke ranks with their one-time supporters by enacting a piggyback tax increase to help finance, among other things, a new class of police cadets.

Just as last year's vocal protests by Baltimore County teachers soured elected leaders, so too this scare ad might backfire on the FOP. The union might be banking on Neil Behan, the venerable and venerated county police chief, to make the same kind of pitch on behalf of his department that he made last year to the County Council. But it wouldn't be surprising if the council and the executive were less receptive to such pleas this year, now that they've gotten an earful of the FOP's fear-mongering radio ad.

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