Recreation as part of police work Fighting crime: Criticism of Baltimore police for taking over rec centers is misplaced.

July 06, 1996

SUMMER IS HERE. School is out. That means recreation programs for children are needed. Yet the city's revenue problems have led it to cut the recreation and parks budget. Recreational services will get only about $12 million, versus $13 million last year. The Police Department wants to fill the breach. Unfortunately, this logical step has drawn unexpected criticism.

Baltimore has 69 recreation centers. As of this month, 20 are operated solely or jointly by the Police Athletic League. It makes sense. One key to stopping crime is preventing criminal behavior that develops in children. Positive recreational activities that keep kids off the streets and out of trouble help do that. But many city rec centers, in poor neighborhoods where it's difficult to charge activity fees, have been doing a poor job of performing that task.

The PAL program is funded largely with grants from government sources and private foundations. The city contributes the police officers who are volunteering for this duty. Some critics say those officers cannot effectively replace the trained recreation staffers who were in the centers now being turned over to PAL.

It's true that the officers may not have college degrees in recreation, but they will undergo sufficient training to handle this work. Other PAL volunteers will provide the extra manpower lacking when these centers were under the Department of Recreation and Parks.

A more valid criticism is that the summer hours of some centers will actually be reduced when PAL takes them over. The program is designed to conduct activities between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m., the typical after-school hours. PAL will not be running the daytime summer programs that kept centers open for children while their parents were at work. But a separate day-care program will continue at the Waverly center, with PAL operating during its usual hours. The city has to determine whether it can find funds to make that possible at other centers.

PAL can work, if neighborhoods want it to. PAL is expected to involve 2,500 children in its programs this summer. That's fine police work -- providing a secure environment for children to learn and play, establishing positive relationships between officers and parents, bringing new life to dormant rec centers. It's not a panacea, but PAL deserves public support.

Pub Date: 7/06/96

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