Officers trading on trust

March 09, 1994|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Sun Staff Writer

Eight-year-old Chris DeMillo was determined to trade a Mike Gambrill card for another Al Lindhorst. He even offered to throw in a Jimmy Geibel. No takers.

But the day didn't end too badly for Chris. He managed to get Al Lindhorst himself to autograph his card.

Mike Gambrill? Jimmy Geibel? Al Lindhorst?

They're hardly household names. They're not even the next crop of rookies destined for the Hall of Fame. They're Baltimore County police officers.

But, like Cal Ripken and Shaquille O'Neal, they have their pictures on trading cards -- "C.O.P.'s" cards that made their official debut yesterday with Chris DeMillo and the other third-graders at Pleasant Plains Elementary School.

"I really like this one the best," Chris said. He held up a card bearing a color photo of Officer Albert Lindhorst of the bicycle patrol standing beside his bike, safety helmet cradled in one arm. "This sends a message that everyone who rides a bike should wear a helmet for protection."

The idea for the police trading cards came from Fred Carter, the Towson Precinct's community relations officer. The third-graders who got the first sets yesterday are members of his Crime Fighting Club.

Virtually unheard of in these parts, C.O.P.'s (Community Oriented Policing) cards are popular in the West and Midwest. Capt. Roger Sheets, commander of the Towson Precinct, brought back a handful of Longmont, Colo., C.O.P.'s cards from a conference and showed them to Officer Carter.

"We both thought it would be a positive way to create a better understanding and communication between kids and police," Officer Carter said.

With no trading card money in the department's budget, Officer Carter got outside contributions through the Baltimore County Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization of business leaders that promotes police-community relations.

Armed with $2,200, he had 1,500 sets of cards printed, 16 cards to a set. Like baseball cards, each has a photo on the front and a brief biography on the back. But instead of batting statistics, there's an anti-crime tip.

Collectors take note: In addition to Police Chief Michael D. Gambrill and bomb squad member James Geibel, the initial set includes Captain Sheets, four tactical squad officers brandishing shotguns and assault rifles, and patrol Officer Sharon King.

"We take on a more personal identity, other than just someone they see driving down their street in a patrol car," said Officer King, who has been on the force for years.

Chief Gambrill said the benefit of the trading cards may not be apparent until youngsters grow older.

"We always have a tendency to look for the quick fix," he said. "This won't reduce the crime rate 2 percent in the next six months, but if it fosters better credibility between the cop on the beat and the kids, we're much better off for it."

Officer Lindhorst liked what happened when he started handing out his cards while he was on patrol in Rodgers Forge.

"This idea is so neat, because it has kids running up to us instead of running away from us," he said..

When he first approached his colleagues about putting their pictures on trading cards, Officer Carter didn't find many volunteers. But that has changed, he said. "Since the cards came in and the officers have seen them, nearly all of them want to be on a card," he said.

Another set in the works will include more patrol officers, K-9 units, the Aviation Unit, crime laboratory technicians and the precinct matron who handles female prisoners.

Officer Carter hopes to expand the program to other schools in his precinct and elsewhere in the county.

He said he thinks this is the first set of C.O.P.'s cards on the East Coast but that they are popular farther west.

In Houston, C.O.P.'s cards are a favorite item for charity auctions, said Carroll Roesler, community out reach director for the 4,500-member Houston Police Department.

"We have our Hero Series, which features officers who have received commendations for heroic acts," she said.

The C.O.P.'s cards were a hit at Pleasant Plains, too. When he realized that the policeman on his favorite card was in the room, Chris DeMillo shyly approached Officer Lindhorst, asked for his autograph, then waved the signed card triumphantly in front of his classmates. That set off a scramble.

"This is great," Officer Lindhorst said. "Did he really want to trade Chief Gambrill for me?"

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