Officers see benefits across the line

July 30, 1995|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Staff Writer

Just two years ago, Donald K. Ossmus was charming a confession out of a killer in the rape and bludgeoning of a real estate agent whose body was found stuffed in a closet of a West Baltimore house she had been showing.

This summer, he spent a morning holding up traffic on Warren Road in Cockeysville, looking through bushes and scanning a busy stretch of road to search for . . . a duck.

"I've gone from big city detective to duck crossing guard," he said of his switch from city homicide detective to patrolman on the Baltimore County Police Department.

Officer Ossmus, 40, is part of a wave of police veterans who have left the city to join the county force in the past year.

In fact, 15 of the 20 officers who joined the county department in special recruitment classes for veterans have been from Baltimore City, prompting an outcry from the city police union that the county is handpicking the city's best, such as Officer Ossmus and fellow former homicide investigator Jay C. Landsman. The exodus was triggered by the city police commissioner's plan to rotate officers' assignments, the union says.

But Officers Ossmus and Landsman say they headed to the 'burbs for simpler reasons: They were eligible for city pensions, and opted for higher income and lower stress by crossing the border. The moves were not prompted by the rotation policy or discontent with the city Police Department, they say.

Now, more than a year later, the former detectives say they have no regrets about leaving the city department that they had called home for more than 20 years -- and the jobs that had taken them to murder scene after murder scene.

Now, even mundane tasks such as serving as a mediator between an arguing gas station attendant and customer, or being a savior of ducks, can be wonderful.

"Everybody had a pretty good laugh over that one," said Officer Ossmus, recalling the duck incident as he patrolled Cockeysville neighborhoods.

"It was kind of hard to believe that I could be sent to help a duck and her babies cross the road because that kind of thing would never happen in the city. But when you've seen and done the things that Jay and I have done and seen, it's almost refreshing to get a duck call."

Officer Landsman, 44, a jokester who was one of the detectives featured in the book "Homicide," by Sun reporter David Simon, adds: "I'd always said that after 20 years on the force, I'd look for something else. I originally applied to be a brain surgeon, but my education wasn't up to par and they turned me down. . . .

"Seriously, I'm collecting a pension now, making good money with the county and actually spending more time at home. This is really just a great deal. I love it out here."

The combined salary and pension provide about 38 percent more than their city salaries, both men say.

It wasn't just the pay that was attractive, they say, but the fact that the county was so different. Getting used to the county paperwork and police codes was challenging, but manageable; acclimating to the friendly atmosphere and slower pace of crime was a little harder.

A typical fender bender on Cranbrook Road had Officer Ossmus filling out an accident report and dealing with two distressed drivers. It took him less time to have both owners smiling than to write the report, completed in about 15 minutes.

"The last accident report I wrote for the city was in 1978," he said. "but if I can help it at all, it'll be 2078 before I write another one."

He's come full circle since joining the city force in 1973 as a cadet. After graduating from the city academy, Officer Ossmus moved through the department from patrolman to undercover narcotics officer to robbery detective and finally homicide in 1992, where he happily worked on "the ultimate crimes."

In 1993, he linked shell casings to find a killer who committed two slayings in different locations. Late that year, he and his partner flew to Illinois to bring back the killer of Lynne McCoy, the real estate agent who was slain Dec. 21, 1993.

"When I got out here, I was ready to go, go, go," he said. "It took awhile to accept the fact that things are very laid back out here. I haven't pulled my gun once since I've been out here."

Although more people live in Baltimore County than the city, the crime rate is much lower. The county had 31 homicides last year among its 7,188 reported violent crimes, which include rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults; in the city, 321 homicides were recorded among nearly 20,000 violent crimes.

"I thought it was something else when I saw that we had computers in our cars," Officer Ossmus said. "But what's more strange is in the city, when you have a crime investigation, you would spend half an hour looking for the guy's name and another half an hour trying to find out where he lives.

"Here, when you ask them for their names, they tell you their real names. They don't lie. It's amazing."

For Officer Landsman, the move to the county also was a welcome improvement.

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