Cristin Treaster came to Baltimore to be a doctor. But the Connecticut native and Johns Hopkins University graduate is coming back to be a cop.
Michael Jones grew up among drug dealers in inner-city Baltimore and lost a brother to the violent city streets, but he chose college over selling crack cocaine. He too will soon join the force.
They are the next generation of Baltimore police officers. Armed with four-year degrees, Treaster and Jones are part of a new federal program called Police Corps that aims to put better-educated police officers on patrol.
Each of the 40 recruits in Baltimore will earn up to $10,000 a year -- which Treaster, Jones and other graduates in the first class can use retroactively -- to help pay their college tuition in exchange for a four-year commitment on the city force; they will get paid a salary by the city. The payoff, proponents hope, is a new breed of officer who can take classroom lessons to the real-life streets.
"We can elevate the quality of police," said George B. Brosan, a former Maryland State Police superintendent and the new director of the Police Corps academy in Linthicum, which opens its doors Sunday.
If a police corps recruit is not a better officer than what is on the street now, Brosan says, "we will be a failure."
The Police Corps -- launched with federal grant money in Charleston, S.C., and Baltimore -- is the brainchild of Adam Walinsky, a New York lawyer who has been pushing to establish such a program for 15 years.
He worked tirelessly to persuade Congress to shell out $10 million last year and $40 million in 1998, and to find police departments that would embrace the idea. Walinsky, a former speech writer for Robert F. Kennedy, got Kennedy's daughter, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, on board to push the program in Maryland.
"I think we have set extraordinarily high standards," Townsend said. "We are recruiting the next generation of leaders who will be critically aware of how vital law enforcement is to our communities.
"We are not looking for people who just want adventure," the lieutenant governor said. "We want people who have a keen understanding of neighborhoods and how they fight crime and have a determination to solve problems."
Critics of the program, notably the International Association of Chiefs of Police, have argued that it demeans police officers who don't have college diplomas, will create a class system in the department and could deplete the force of experienced officers because the recruits are obligated to stay only four years. Of the 3,200 police officers in Baltimore, 491 have four-year college degrees.
Three recruits interviewed said they want policing as a career.
Treaster, 22, who grew up in Ledyard, Conn., population 13,000, grew leery of the medical profession and the way she said money and insurance companies determined a patient's care. After graduating last year from Hopkins and working in local emergency rooms, she decided that being a doctor wasn't for her.
She was interested in law enforcement and rode with police officers in four districts. "That got me hooked," she said. "It just seemed to be my thing."
Treaster's impression of officers is that "they are great for being public servants. I don't know that having cops with education will make better cops or worse cops. I have an understanding of different cultures and an acceptance of them. I don't think I'm so quick to jump to conclusions."
Jones, 24, graduated from Morgan State University last year and said he had always planned to become an officer. He is one of 12 children who grew up with a single mother at Harford Road and Darley Avenue; some of his family got into drugs and went to jail while others made it through school.
He remembers being harassed by officers when he walked out the front door and being frustrated that the local dealers pulling in $1,000 a week rarely got arrested. "I'm going to school, and the cops would approach me even though there were drug dealers on the corners," he said.
Jones said the lure of the street was enticing, but he stayed in school and rejected the "easy money." But his 18-year-old brother, Eric Julius Jones, wasn't so lucky. He was gunned down near his childhood home May 21 -- a slaying still unsolved and without a motive. Jones met with a police recruiter on the day of the funeral.
"I really do know how it is to grow up in that type of a community and wanting to feel safe," Jones said. "I don't want no one else's family to go through what my family went through. No one should lose a son, a father or a brother to such violence. This is what I want to prevent."
Being a police officer, he said, "is more than just apprehending criminals. It is more than directing traffic. You are a role model."