Popular police officer transferred from community program

January 11, 1995|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Sun Staff Writer

A popular county police officer who has been a role model for youngsters is being transferred from a community policing program in a Pasadena housing project, a move that some residents believe may be political.

About 200 youths and parents in Freetown Village have signed a petition protesting Cpl. Gordon March's removal from the Youth Activities Program and asking Acting Chief Robert Beck to reconsider.

"I was devastated when I heard about this transfer," said Tammy Horne, a spokeswoman for the signature drive. "It was like someone told me he died."

Residents started collecting signatures Friday and hope to give copies of the petition to County Executive John G. Gary and Acting Chief Beck today.

"We still have more signatures to get," Ms. Horne said last night.

Ms. Horne said Corporal March's reassignment to a South County patrol, one of about a dozen transfers announced last week, was probably "political."

The corporal was a supporter of county executive candidate Theodore J. Sophocleus, a Democrat who lost to Mr. Gary in November. Mr. Gary will appoint a permanent chief this year.

Former state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, a Democrat who is a major fund-raiser for the Youth Activities Program, said, "It has all the hints of being political retribution. I think Gordy is the heart of the program. He gets awfully ambitious at times, but he works well with the kids and is a role model for them. I question who was playing politics here."

Corporal March, a Linthicum resident, stopped short of blaming his political activities on the transfer and said he is not sure why he is being moved to the station farthest from his home.

"All of my evaluations have been perfect," he said. "They [supervisors] told me it was a departmental reorganization."

Acting Chief Beck played down the importance of the written reports and said politics had nothing to do with the transfer. "I don't doubt that his evaluations were good. But evaluations are very subjective and don't always tell the whole story," he said.

Corporal March was using the program as a "springboard to something greater," refusing to share recognition with other officers and making promises to people in the program that he couldn't keep, the acting chief said. "This is a guy who talks a good game," he said.

Officer Joe Hatcher of the Northern District has been chosen to take over the program. "Everything he [March] has done is not bad, but the scale is tipped in Joe Hatcher's favor," Acting Chief Beck said.

Corporal March, 47, who has been director of the program since its beginning in mid-1992, is worried that it will be dismantled eventually.

The acting chief dismissed those fears and questioned Corporal March's popularity with Freetown residents, saying the officer had "perks," such as money, to give people.

Acting Chief Beck displayed letters from four people who signed the petition asking to have their names withdrawn.

"If that is what Chief Beck is saying, then it is a joke," Corporal March replied. "Maybe he should come to Freetown and talk to some of the residents. I don't receive any personal gain from the program. I was asked to do this program, and at first I didn't want to do it. I was perfectly happy [investigating] narcotics."

His supporters say the man who believed in them three years ago should be allowed to stay.

"To take someone who has developed and implemented that program does not make sense to these people," said Linda Yirka, a secretary at Freetown Elementary School who is

helping gather signatures. "Corporal March should be kept there. The difference he and the program have made in the community is just amazing."

Residents point to police statistics for Freetown Village that show crime in 1991 was up 66 percent compared with the previous year, but that three months into the program it had dropped 24 percent.

In 1993, the department expanded the program to Meade Village, where crime declined 44 percent in the first six months, according to police records.

The program costs about $80,000 a year, including about $26,000 from the county. The rest comes from donations and fund-raising by Take Back The Streets, the governing body for the Youth Activities Program started by Corporal March and Mr. Wagner.

With that money, Corporal March has taken the youngsters on day trips. During the school year, the program provides after-school activities, including tutoring.

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