Police keep youth busy with outings

August 07, 1994|By Gregory P. Kane | Gregory P. Kane,Sun Staff Writer

The children came early to Freetown Elementary School, their towels, trunks and swimsuits stuffed into plastic bags, book bags, knapsacks, whatever was available.

They didn't want to miss the bus to Sandy Point State Park.

Some waited patiently on benches in the school's hallway. Others went to the cafeteria, where they sat at the tables, chatting and drawing pictures.

In one classroom, Larniece Dudley, 11, sat in a corner, tutoring two younger students in a multiplication problem.

Larniece and the others were waiting for Cpl. Gordon "Gordy" March, leader of the Police Department's year-round Youth Activities Program for children in Freetown Village and Meade Village.

"It's interesting," said Larniece, a Marley Middle School seventh-grader who spent her previous summers doing "nothing."

"I get to do something over the summer," she said.

The program started two years ago when Corporal March, a former undercover narcotics officer and homicide detective, received a call from Chief Robert Russell.

The chief wanted a program that would "basically give area youth an alternative to crime and drugs," said his administrative assistant, Sgt. Mark Howes. And he wanted Corporal March to take charge.

Corporal March recalled telling the chief the program "would be a good idea" and that "somebody should do it." But not him. He'd spent most of his 25-year career on the streets, locking up bad guys. Chief Russell persisted.

"He said he had seen me work with kids as a coach and that it would be a personal favor to him if I took the assignment," said Corporal March, 46.

The program costs about $80,000 a year. The county kicks in about $26,000. The rest comes from solicitations and fund raising done by the Take Back The Streets program started by state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, a District 32 Democrat.

Since the program started, Corporal March has spent his time supervising and taking the youngsters on trips. The Wednesday before the trek to Sandy Point, they went to the Arundel Olympic Swim Center. The previous Thursday they toured the Naval Academy. For the Sandy Point trip, he got in his patrol car and led three buses down Ritchie Highway.

On one of the buses, children begged the driver to switch the radio from country and western. They wanted station 92Q, which specializes in rap music.

"I'll change it to any station but that one," the driver yelled, prompting a chorus of other suggestions.

"95.5!" one yelled out.

"V-103!" shouted another.

The driver settled on 95.9-WWIN. Soon the children were popping their fingers and grooving to Patti LaBelle's "He's the Right Kind of Lover" and Cece Peniston's "I'm Not Over You."

Crime in Freetown Village had gone up 66 percent the year before the program started in June 1992. It dropped 24 percent during the first three months after the program's arrival.

Last June, the department expanded the program to Meade Village. There crime went down 44 percent in the first six months, according to police records. Corporal March said open-air drug markets in both communities have vanished, and he credits the program with the overall reduction in crime.

Angela Mann, assistant director of the Freetown Recreation Center, used to work with the activities program. She chaperoned children, solicited donations, coached softball.

"Anything they would ask me to do, I would do, because most of the things were to benefit the community," said Ms. Mann, 30.

She did so well that when the assistant director's position at Freetown became available, Corporal March and some of the other officers made calls recommending her for the job. She still helps with the program.

On the trip to Sandy Point, she had 13 children under her care. Her niece, Kenya Bay, 15, was among them. Kenya has a summer job at the Freetown Recreation Center and earns $218 every two weeks.

Corporal March estimated that most of the 200 children who made the trip to Sandy Point were in the water within minutes of their arrival at 11 a.m. Some stood on the shoulders of bigger partners and dived head-first into the water.

Some did cartwheels along the shore. A few covered themselves with sand, while others indulged in the free ham and cheese sandwiches, salads and fresh fruit provided by the program.

Tiara Casey, 13, found a large horseshoe crab that had wandered too close to the shore. "Everybody was stepping on it, so I went in to pick it up," said Tiara, a Chesapeake Middle School eighth-grader.

She took it to the picnic area for others to see, then returned the lost crustacean to its rightful place.

"It was heavy," she said, reflecting on her stroll with the crab.

As the afternoon at Sandy Point neared its end around 2 p.m., Corporal March watched the happy children and smiled.

"It's quite a group of kids," he said. "A lot of them wouldn't get to do this otherwise. If we could just throughout this state bring the police department, the community and business together, we wouldn't have a crime problem."

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