Police program for Howard citizens wins praise 24 gain confidence in law enforcement

November 22, 1993|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Staff Writer

A lot can change in just 11 weeks -- even apprehension and mistrust.

Doug Kington of Columbia says he was always suspicious of police officers, until he finished Howard County's first Citizens' Police Academy last week.

Designed to familiarize "civilians" with police tactics or just to make them more comfortable with officers who patrol their neighborhoods, the inaugural course was pronounced a success participants.

"I was turned around by the experience," said Mr. Kington, assistant vice president of corporate real estate at USF&G. "Now I'm more confident that if I'm stopped, the officer will do the right thing."

Like many of the 24 county residents who were awarded certificates of appreciation for taking the course, Mr. Kington acknowledged that his impressions of police officers were influenced by publicity surrounding the Rodney King excessive force case in California in 1992.

"Every time I used to see a police officer my adrenalin started running. . . . My opinion flipped 180 degrees as a result of this program."

The academy is part of the department's "community-oriented policing" program, a concept designed to help officers and communities work together.

"We didn't try to win you over," Chief James Robey told the class at an awards ceremony in the George Howard county office building on Thursday. "All we wanted you to do is take a look at our side of it."

Chief Robey handed out the certificates while course instructor Lt. Jay Zumbrun announced each honoree. Lieutenant Zumbrun said he was impressed that all 24 residents who started the program finished it.

Participants came from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and included a computer salesman, a lawyer, a 74-year-old chaplain and a 16-year-old high school student.

The group met Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the roll call room at police headquarters in Ellicott City. In all, they spent at least 40 hours learning from and working with county officers.

On weekends, the class met at a firing range in Marriottsville, a driver training course at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport and at the department's new Shoot/Don't Shoot Simulation station in Hickory Ridge.

Class members scheduled rides with police officers, studied drug enforcement issues and learned about the department's use of force policies and evidence collection procedures.

"All of it was a lot of fun," said Mike Stough, an Elkridge accountant who took the class with his wife, Susie, a speech pathologist. "We looked forward to starting every week. It was a real blast."

Jenny Beach of Ellicott City said her favorite experience came during the driver training course at BWI, where she got to play the bandit during a mock police chase. She sped up to 65 mph on a vacant airport runway.

"Believe me, that was not easy," said Ms. Beach, a retired intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency.

"I really enjoyed it," said Fred Keller, a Social Security Administration benefits authorizer from Ellicott City. "It opened your eyes to what goes on in the police department on a regular basis."

Mr. Keller said he was most impressed by how specialists can lift fingerprints from soft drink cans and dollar bills.

"It was definitely worth going," said David Alexander, a senior criminal justice major at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Mr. Alexander had enrolled in the academy to work toward employment in law enforcement.

"I know how intense it is now," Mr. Alexander said. "You make one mistake, it's your life or someone else's. Right now I'm probably not ready for law enforcement. Maybe I should do some other things first."

The spring 1994 session, which will begin in February, and next ** fall's session are already filled.

"It exceeded our expectations," said Lieutenant Zumbrun. "It worked out well. Future classes can only get better."

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