No Shortcuts in Police Training

December 13, 1993

Warnings of what happens when politicians decide that a police force can be beefed up by shortening officers' training can be found in the District of Columbia, where 36 police officers were indicted last year on charges ranging from dope dealing to murder and kidnapping.

Despite these examples, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is cutting the Police Academy from 29 weeks to 26. Most other major jurisdictions here provide officers less training than Baltimore City, he argues.

The mayor has a point. The length of Police Academy courses is important but not crucial. However, we see no reason to believe that the city would provide enough subsequent in-service training to cadets graduating from compressed academy classes. Every city resident knows that the police department is a seat-of-the-pants operation, scrambling daily to fulfill routine tasks.

We find it strange that Mr. Schmoke would make a political decision about reducing officer training before appointing a new police commissioner. He is unnecessarily tying the hands of the new top cop and reducing his operational freedom.

It is clear why the mayor wants more police officers in a hurry. The epidemic of crime, from murders to bank robberies, is making residents antsy about their city. Add to that the fact that the 2,900-officer police department is losing about 15 officers each month through attrition. The city force needs replacements in a hurry.

Evidence argues forcefully that city officers need more training, not less. Whether in the city or in Baltimore, Prince George's or Montgomery counties, the pool of applicants is appalling. Would-be officers' juvenile and some adult criminal records are often overlooked if the candidates are reasonably smart and literate. Many departments have to interview 20 candidates just to fill one slot.

But that is only part of the problem. The court system is such a mess that scarce officers on the force waste their work shifts -- or days off -- waiting for trials that are postponed or abandoned because of missing witnesses or a technicality. This lessens the number of police officers on the street and leads to compensatory-time problems.

Why not extend court hours until 9 p.m. to cut the backlog and make appearances more convenient for witnesses and police on late shifts? And why not transfer such functions as the time-consuming task of locating witnesses to the sheriff's office so that law enforcement can again become the No. 1 mission of the police department?

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.