Harnessing idealism for police work

February 02, 1997|By Sara Engram

IF ALL THE PEOPLE Adam Walinsky has buttonholed to discuss his dream of a Police Corps had been present for the program's official kick-off in Maryland last week, the group could have filled a good chunk of the Convention Center.

As it was, the gathering at Baltimore City police headquarters packed a sizable room. Ironically, Mr. Walinsky wasn't able to attend, but there was ample testimony to his unswerving devotion to this dream.

Two other key players were there -- Jonathan Rubinstein who, along with Mr. Walinsky, came up with an ROTC-like program to rejuvenate police departments, and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who first began working on the Police Corps idea in 1982.

Fifteen years later, the dream is becoming a federally funded reality, and Baltimore is the biggest beneficiary of its first phase. Of the $10 million appropriated for the Police Corps' first year, about 65 percent is coming to Maryland.

That will translate into 120 patrol officers as recent college graduates are trained in a new curriculum that emphasizes integrity, honor and respect for the community as much as it develops street smarts or teaches proper arrest procedures. With subsidies and other savings from the program, the city will be able to hire an additional three dozen officers.

Central to the Police Corps is the idea that police work is important enough to deserve the country's best and brightest young people, if only for a few years. Offering recruits college scholarships or, in the program's initial years, money to repay college loans, strikes some critics as an insult to current police officers and as, heaven forbid, elitist.

But such ''elitism'' should prove no more demoralizing than military ROTC programs and may have similar beneficial effects. Why shouldn't police departments attract the best and brightest young people? They are dealing with some of the toughest problems facing this country -- a breakdown of law and order that cripples the lives of victims and victimizers alike.

A. B. ''Buzzy'' Krongard, chairman and CEO of Alex. Brown, Inc., has long been a Police Corps supporter -- in part because it does seek to draw America's elite young people into law enforcement. ''I'm a great believer in serving the country,'' he says.

Platoon leaders

He compares the Police Corps to ROTC programs, or to the Marine Corps summer platoon-leaders training course in which he participated as a Princeton student. Such programs produce many military officers who serve only long enough to fulfill their commitment.

The same thing will happen with the Police Corps. ''But,'' Mr. Krongard says, ''even the percentage who leave will have a more sympathetic view of issues facing police departments. There will be more of a cross-section of the population interested in police work . . . [beyond] just the people getting arrested or the people getting robbed.''

Baltimore's good fortune stems in large part from the long-standing interest in the Police Corps on the part of several key players -- Mrs. Townsend, Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and Gary McLhinney, president of Baltimore Lodge 3 of the Fraternal Order of Police. Their support, along with that of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, made Baltimore a prime candidate for the lion's share of the initial funding.

Sitting in places of honor Thursday morning were half a dozen young people who have applied for the Police Corps. Monique Antoine, 22, will be graduating from Morgan State University in May with a major in political science and a desire to do something for the community. She also has big loans to repay. The Police Corps is a way of doing both.

Timothy Petrie, 26, has been waiting for the same opportunity, working at temporary jobs since his graduation last spring from Loyola College. He got up at 3 a.m. to drive from his family's home on Long Island to be on time for the press conference.

This is the same idealism and enthusiasm that has inspired Peace Corps volunteers to share their talents in less-developed countries around the world. Now, there are serious problems to solve right here at home, problems that are affecting all of us.

By raising the standards for law enforcement recruitment and training and, yes, by the elitist assertion that police work is worthy of the aspirations of the best and brightest of our young people, the Police Corps will help point the way toward solving those problems.

Sara Engram is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.

Pub Date: 2/02/97

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