Balto. Co. Training New Age Police

April 09, 1995|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore County Police Department is training a new breed of police officers. Call them sensitive new age cops.

Heeding Chief Michael D. Gambrill's message of making police officers more visible fixtures in neighborhoods, 40 recruits in the 92nd academy class are teaching adults to read, soliciting donations to the House of Ruth battered women's center and baby-sitting for the children of abused women.

It makes no difference that they are not police officers until the June 13 graduation. They are getting a head start on forging the bonds of trust between officers and their communities, said Jason S. Kunzman, academy class president.

"The department has been pushing this community policing idea for a long time now," said Mr. Kunzman, 24, a native New Yorker lTC who proposed to his classmates the idea of volunteering. "Many officers responded by saying, 'We don't have time.' But we're saying, we do have time. You have to make time.

"Through volunteering in various programs, not only are we helping the people in the community, but we're also helping ourselves," Mr. Kunzman said. "This is putting us in touch with our community."

It started as an alternative plan for donating money to charity, but has blossomed into a full-fledged volunteer program in which recruits are rushing off to all parts of the county after enduring 8 1/2 hours of classes, exams and rigorous physical training.

Traditionally, police recruits pay $10 a week to be used for a graduation party and donation to charity. But this group, Mr. Kunzman said, wanted to hold the party on the Spirit of Baltimore -- which would have taken all the class funds.

"But we also wanted to follow academy tradition by donating our class dues to charities and worthy causes at the end of training," Mr. Kunzman said, explaining how he woke up in the middle of the night with the answer:

"Let's not donate money, let's donate time. Time means much more than money. And with time, a lot of us have found that we really enjoy volunteering. Many of us might go on volunteering after we graduate, too."

Betty A. Young was more than happy to accept a donation of time over money.

"It's certainly appreciated when you write a check," said Ms. Young, the county supervisor of the adult basic education literacy program. "But the best gift they could give to this program is the gift of time."

"If we had to attach a dollar amount to the time the recruits have spent helping our students," Ms. Young added, "it would be thousands of dollars."

Alternating groups of three recruits have been helping adults read at Parkville High School every Monday and Wednesday.

On the first and third Mondays of every month, three other recruits baby-sit for children for Stop the Abuse Now and Definitely, which helps abused women find time to attend counseling.

The entire class of 40 helped with a telethon for the House of Ruth, and several recruits have brought in students to help with various programs.

"When we were interviewed for the academy, the standing question we were asked was, 'Why do you want to be a police officer?' " said James D. Gill, 21, a recruit from Westminster. "And most of us answered, 'To help people.' We're just showing that we meant it.

"We've gotten so much out of this," Mr. Gill said. "When we get out on the street, we're constantly going to have to deal with these people. . . . This is letting people get a positive feeling of what we do and who we are."

Their future boss couldn't agree more. Chief Gambrill adopted the principles of community policing in 1993 when he succeeded Cornelius J. Behan as head of the department. The plan was to create a friendly police presence in the county's troubled areas.

"The 92nd Recruit Class has demonstrated great sensitivity to ,, the values -- integrity, fairness, service -- which drive this agency," Chief Gambrill said.

Baltimore resident Paul P. McCleary is one of many people enrolled in the adult basic education and literacy program who have been helped by the recruits. On a typical night, academy recruit Shawn M. Needham patiently worked with Mr. McCleary on math problems.

"What's five divided by five?" Mr. Needham asked. Mr. McCleary, 39, who is working on his high school equivalency, hesitated.

"OK, what about five times one," said Mr. Needham, a 28-year-old Pennsylvania native who holds a business and finance degree from Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg. "Or how many times does five go into five?"

Slowly counting out five fingers on his hand, Mr. McCleary smiled and answered, "One."

"Was that right? That just amazes me," said a beaming Mr. McCleary. "I can't believe I'm doing division now."

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