After 23 years on police force, he likes the new style of that old beat

Q&A

January 18, 1994|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,Staff Writer

Pat Bradley will never forget that day in 1971. He was standing on a street corner in riot-scarred Southeast Baltimore -- in his brand-new police uniform with his brand-new .38-caliber service revolver on his hip -- when a little boy walked by.

The kid stopped square in front of then-Officer Bradley, staring in awe at the big gold buttons on the front of the rookie cop's new blue coat. Suddenly, the child's mother ran up and grabbed her son's tiny hand, leading him away with a warning to "watch out for that man because he'll put you in jail."

The words cut at the young cop's image of himself as "the good guy in the white hat who protected the weak."

In 1984, when Maj. Pat Bradley was named head of the Baltimore Police Academy, he set about winning back the trust of the people living in Baltimore's poorest and meanest neighborhoods by changing the way officers were trained -- hoping to produce a generation of kinder cops.

This month, after 23 years on the force, Pat Bradley is retiring.

Q: With all the talk lately of petty corruption, brutality and racial tension in the ranks of the Baltimore police force, what do you think is the biggest problem facing the department today?

A: Disillusionment. A lot of our officers have lost sight of their ideals. Some of them have said "screw it," and they're simply going through the motions, collecting a paycheck.

Some of them have rolled over and become corrupted.

But the largest number continue to answer the call, to swim across the pool with the anvil on their backs every day.

We need to do more to keep faith with them. They are the glue that continues to hold us together.

Q: What do you think the average Baltimore cop's impression of the leadership is these days when he or she looks up through the chain of command?

A: Nobody up there is listening. Nobody up there cares.

That perception, albeit inaccurate, generates a lot of anger. It affects the department at every level. It feeds a lot of dissatisfaction, and some officers take that frustration out on the street.

I have said for a long time that frustration is the occupational disease of law enforcement. But there are some things we could be doing about it.

Q: Changing perspective for a moment, what do the midlevel managers in the department -- the captains and lieutenants and sergeants -- see as the biggest problem they face?

A: I can recall as an assistant commander in the Northeastern District being irritated by the fact that some political entities in this town -- the people with connections to the mayor's office or City Council -- had more influence over the deployment of my people than I did.

Right now, if you know the right people, you can get more cops in your neighborhood -- whether the police commander in charge thinks you need them or not. Some people, I suspect, use those connections just to prove they can. That needs to change. We need to underscore the authority of our supervisors, not undermine them.

Q: You're known as a fairly optimistic guy, but that sounds like a bleak assessment. Is there an answer? What, for example, should the new police commissioner do about these complex problems?

A: The very first thing the new commissioner [San Jose Deputy Chief Thomas C. Frazier] has to do is get himself in touch with the officers on the street and with his front line supervisors. One-on-one.

There's tremendous talent in this department that has not been given the opportunity and the confidence to express itself. And those people have concrete answers to most of the problems facing this department. Take the leash off them and they will run.

Q: It sounds like the whole theory behind "community policing," the idea that one good cop on the street is in the best position to know what a neighborhood needs.

A: Yes, and that's what we lost when we moved our officers off the street and into patrol cars 30 years ago and tied them to a 911 radio dispatcher with a log book.

Our entire system of policing became report-driven. Your success as a cop was no longer based on the quality of what you did. It was measured by quantity, by numbers, by the volume of calls you answered, the arrests you made, the citations you wrote.

Q: What has that translated into on the streets of Baltimore?

A: We lost the bond, the personal contact, between the officer and the people living in the neighborhoods.

We replaced Officer Johnson -- the cop who walked down your block every day and stopped by for your family barbecue -- with Officer X, the generic cop who jumps out of a car and takes somebody away. Our job became inherently confrontational.

Q: You've been responsible for training Baltimore's cops to carry out the new community policing plan, so you've heard all the criticism of it: that you can't possibly patrol a city this size on foot without hiring a thousand new cops, that it will never succeed in reducing crime. Can community policing ever work in Baltimore?

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