Baltimore County names Dunaja 'Officer of Year'

June 22, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Baltimore County police Detective Leonard J. Dunaja Jr., 40, has never fired his gun in anger in 19 years of police work.

But he has helped a lot of bruised and abused children, found a lot of missing teen-agers, and taught hundreds of county schoolchildren how to live safer lives. Over the years he has also donated hundreds of hours to his department and his community in southern Pennsylvania.

For these contributions, the police Community Relations Executive Council named him "Officer of the Year." Last night, the Baltimore County Council honored him with a special resolution.

Working with children isn't all peaches and cream, said Detective Dunaja. He has investigated child murders, youths whom abusive adults have burned with cigarettes, teens who have run out of state and into trouble. The murder of a child is especially wrenching.

"That did me," he said.

Still, he said, working with children is often satisfying. The rewards are more tangible than those offered by routine patrol. In fact, he was looking for a way to become a detective when he first joined the department's youth division in 1980, after a stint patrolling in the Parkville area. His interest in helping grew with his youth division experiences.

"You see all the bad things that happen to kids. You want to put the time back," he said.

This interest also was spurred by the birth of his two children and his volunteer efforts outside his police career.

"I just began devoting more and more time to kids," he said.

Working in the youth division gave him a regular daytime schedule, which made time available to do the community work at home.

"It just got to a point that that's all I do anymore," he said. "My wife's good about it."

Currently, he helps teach county schoolchildren about safety. He tells 5-year-olds how they should handle meeting strangers, teaches sixth-graders about sex abuse prevention; seventh-graders about preventing handgun violence and ninth-graders about violence in general.

His own police career began a few years after he completed ninth-grade. He graduated from Patterson High School in Baltimore in June 1972, joined the county force as a cadet the following June, and became a full-fledged officer in January 1974.

After six years as a patrol officer, he found a home working in the department's Youth Services bureau. There, he worked with abused and missing children, and with the Police Athletic League, which seeks to build bridges to disadvantaged youth. He also plays keyboard with The Heat, the department's rock band, which is used to forge ties with young people.

At home in New Freedom, Pa., just past the Maryland line, he has organized youth soccer leagues in which he helps coach, along with coaching his son's baseball team and volunteering at St. John the Baptist Church.

He's also a member of the Shrewsbury Township Recreation and Parks board of directors, and has donated hundreds of hours to other community groups.

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