On patrol for Police Corps Recruiting: A New York lawyer's relentless drive to build a better police force is about to pay off in Baltimore.

November 21, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Adam Walinsky's dream to put more and better-educated police officers on America's streets is about to become reality in Baltimore.

For nearly 15 years, the New York lawyer with ideals shaped by Robert F. Kennedy and the turmoil of the Vietnam era has relentlessly badgered politicians and pushed his agenda of a police recruiting program patterned after the Peace Corps.

Officials plan to formally announce the state-administered Police Corps program next month. Students selected would receive $7,500 a year in federal funds for college tuition in their chosen vocation. In return, they pledge to become police officers for four years.

Police chiefs see the corps in practical terms -- more money and more officers. Baltimore would get $7 million in federal funds the first year and plans to hire 50 police officers starting in January. But Walinsky and his longtime friend, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, see it as a crusade.

"Thirty years ago, a generation of Americans joined the Peace Corps to make life better abroad," Townsend said. "Right now, crime is the biggest threat to our democracy, and we're going to recruit a new generation of Americans to build peace and security at home."

Walinsky believes that cities are in frightful condition. Idealistic young men and women -- no matter what their intended vocation -- ought to be willing to patrol dangerous streets out of duty to their country, he said.

"We have to say to them: 'You don't get a pass,' " Walinsky said. "You don't get a waltz to the best schools and the best jobs. If you want to end up running the country, you have got to spend some time living with its problems."

Walinsky enjoys wide support for his program, from police unions to politicians of opposing ideology who stood shoulder to shoulder on the floor of the House of Representatives to sing its praises.

There are also some reservations. A noted criminologist from Maryland believes the program is "insulting to exist- ing police officers."

"The basic difference in the way I see policing and this program is that policing to me is a career, a vocation," said Lawrence Sherman, chairman of the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland College Park.

"To the Police Corps, it's a public service that is better done by the young and enthusiastic than the older and wiser."

The head of the International Association of Chiefs of Police views a four-year commitment as being detrimental to recruiting career officers.

"There is the disturbing premise that there is something wrong with policing, and the way we are going to correct it is by taking a gamble to bring in people who want a college education," said Dan Rosenblatt, president of the association.

The long fight Walinsky has waged has not been without problems. He crisscrossed the country to iron out disputes over how officers would be trained -- issues that have yet to be fully resolved in Baltimore.

But the troubles won't stand in the way of the announcement, when the U.S. Department of Justice will award the first $10 million grant, to be divided between Maryland, North and South Carolina, Oregon, Arkansas and Nevada. Maryland is getting most of the money.

"The only thing I'm unhappy about is that in some ways, this is a reform that was already 10 years too late when we proposed it," Walinsky said. "I would like to feel that had we gotten to it sooner, we could have saved a few people."

Asking Walinsky to describe the Police Corps is like asking a television evangelist to talk about God. The bald, stocky ex-Marine launches into a steady stream of apocalyptic rhetoric -- "The seeds of this program are the seeds of America's present urban catastrophe" is his opening line in a three-hour interview.

And his view of this country's condition gets worse. A decade ago, he maintains, the nation had three police officers for every violent crime. Now, he says, that trend has reversed, with three times as many violent crimes as there are officers.

All the talk about lower crime statistics is "absurdity," he contends. He knows what people can do with numbers -- he wrote a cover story for the Atlantic Monthly called "The Crisis of Public Order" and a series of speeches for Robert Kennedy on the urban crises of the '60s.

He whispers as if he's about to pass on a state secret and blow a conspiratorial cover-up: "You know the numbers, what's going on," he says. "Is it getting any better out there? You have got to be kidding me."

At times, he sounds like the liberal he is -- a learned apostle of Kennedy -- and a fervent anti-Vietnam War protester who organized demonstrations in New York.

At other times he resembles a neo-conservative launching into a tirade against lowered hiring standards within police departments. In an effort to increase the number of minorities, he contends, departments nationwide reached too far down into the hiring pool.

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