Police recruiters stymied in city

September 29, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

Just as Officer Namhyun Kim emerged yesterday from his Corvette police cruiser, a young man approached, asking if he could take the sleek, white sports car for a spin around the West Baltimore neighborhood.

"Give me the keys," said the man, eyeing the deck of blue and red police lights atop the car's roof.

"Join the police agency and maybe you can have them," Officer Kim responded. But the pitch came too late. The young man already was walking away on West Baltimore Street, his back turned to the community police station and the cruiser parked beside it.

That encounter was typical on the second day of an unusual, five-day recruitment drive by the Baltimore Police Department, which is seeking officer trainees and cadets from city neighborhoods. The Corvette, the only such cruiser in the department, is one of the attractions, having been seized from a drug dealer.

So far, the stacks of application forms and blank civil service exams in the storefront recruitment center at 1052 W. Baltimore St. have gone undisturbed. And yesterday, officers chatted at a fold-out table where applicants were supposed to be.

"As of right now, no one has come in," Sgt. Antonio Williams said from police headquarters, where he heads the agency's recruitment unit. The makeshift West Baltimore personnel office, which will be open through Saturday, would be closing early yesterday because business was so slow, he said.

The recruitment drive comes as the department is losing 14 to 16 officers per month to retirement, resignation and reassignment. It also marks a new campaign to bring more minorities and women into the force. Currently, 3,000 officers work for the department, including 1,000 blacks and 390 women.

"We're not satisfied -- we would like minorities to comprise 50 percent of our personnel," said Lt. Col. Marc Boles, director of personnel.

The neighborhood drive is part of a broader recruitment campaign. Next week, recruiters will interview candidates at Camp Lejeune, a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina. Baltimore police officers visited U.S. military bases in Germany in May and asked 94 candidates to come to Baltimore for more testing -- the first successful candidate will join the force Monday.

Meanwhile, the city hopes to recapture some of the talent it has lost over the years to higher paying suburban police forces. Under a new program, any officer who left the city force on good terms can be rehired for more money -- without a promotion. So far, two former city officers have accepted the deal, Sergeant Williams said.

As for new candidates, recruiters are eager to try untraditional avenues -- including Baltimore's streets. "When you recruit people . . . who live in the inner city, they understand better what goes on in the city," Officer Kim said as he looked out the office window onto the mostly empty street. "And one thing the community will realize is there's a lot more trust.

"They've seen the officers around the neighborhood. They've maybe even seen them grow up. They can relate to their policeman."

The West Baltimore neighborhood is one of several that police recruiters plan to visit in the next month to gather applications for the $23,000-a-year officer trainee jobs. This is the first time the city has tried such an outreach program, and the department chose an emotionally charged area for its trial run.

In July, some West Baltimoreans charged that officers beat and killed Jesse Chapman Jr. in the back of a police van in the area. Last month, a Baltimore grand jury dismissed the allegations. On the sidewalk outside the recruiting office yesterday, some people recalled that incident.

"Some people trust the police, some people don't," Dwayne Benbow said. "The people in the community haven't forgotten."

But Mr. Benbow and others said they like the idea of neighborhood recruitment, and hope to see more familiar faces on the force. Some people, however, were quick to take themselves out of the running.

"I can't join the force, I got too many felonies," Warren Smith said as he lingered outside the recruiting office. "But there was one time when I wanted to be a cop, before I got knocked off on drug charges."

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