Towson State police to mark 20 years of keeping students and community safe Award-winning force uses prevention programs, trained dog to fight crime

June 25, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

When the award-winning Towson State University Police Department celebrates its 20th year July 1, there will be no hoopla or parties. It will be just another hectic work day for the officers.

"We're so busy all the time," says Chief Stephen J. Murphy.

No wonder.

The 33 officers -- including a canine unit and crime investigation team -- maintain peace and safety on a 326-acre campus that often has more than 20,000 students, faculty and visitors at a time.

"It's just like a small town," says Murphy, 45, who became the department's second chief in 1984.

Most institutions in the University of Maryland System have full-scale police departments of varying sizes. Many, including Towson State's, grew out of the turbulent era of Vietnam protests.

"Having your own police department gives you the ability to respond to problems with staff who understand the campus," says Douglas Tuttle, president of the Connecticut-based International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Association.

But even after two decades of intense police training, the Towson State officers, who carry guns and make arrests like their counterparts in the city and county, are still battling the perception that they're just security guards.

"It's an uphill battle," says Gene E. Dawson, who retired as chief in 1984. "The perception is always there and always will be there."

The tiny headquarters crammed into the general services building at Towson State includes a holding cell, fingerprinting station, mug-shot camera and waiting room with a two-way mirror. The department also has a crime-lab van guided by Detective Scott N. Rouch, a forensic scientist on call 24 hours a day.

The officers, who wear tan uniforms similar to those of the state police, are a familiar sight on campus, whether driving in tan marked cars or directing traffic.

"I want high visibility," Murphy says.

There's also the team of Max -- a hulking, 110-pound German shepherd -- and his handler, Pfc. Richard A. Boord, who have been together for five years.

"Max is probably the most popular police officer here," jokes student Matt Lipsky, a building manager of the University Union, as he greets the duo during their rounds. "Everybody loves Max."

The trained dog, Murphy says, is one of the university's best public relations tools -- and an accomplished member of the force, sniffing his way to drugs, explosives and even missing persons.

Senior Alice Mitchell feels safer with Max on campus. "He makes sure no one is doing anything they shouldn't be."

But it's not as though violent crime is running rampant on campus. The university has had one slaying, a 1977 incident triggered by a domestic dispute between two members of the housekeeping staff. And there was one rape reported last year.

Property crimes are much more common, Murphy says. According to the most recent statistics, in 1995 there were 291 thefts, mostly for unattended personal property, and 100 destruction of property cases reported.

Murphy and his officers also believe in crime awareness, getting the message out by conducting classes and talking to freshmen and their parents. For these efforts, they have received the governor's crime prevention award for the past 11 years.

The university police work closely with county officers in cases where students are involved, whether the complaint is a noisy, off-campus fraternity party or disorderly conduct at a nearby bar.

Maj. Michael H. Stelmack, head of the Towson precinct, says the team effort pays off. "We get along great. There's never a jurisdictional problem."

On campus, the relationship between students and police seems respectful and friendly. As Boord and Max cruise along the university's roads in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, several students wave.

And many officers say they get more out of helping students than arresting them.

"We're here for them, not to get them," says Detective Sgt. John Flynn. "When you can set one student on the right track, then you've done your job."

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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