Welcome the corps

January 05, 1998|By Kathleen K. Townsend

FOUR DECADES ago, when our country's conscience was pricked by pictures of sick and starving children on the other side of the globe, President John F. Kennedy summoned the best of America's youth to the Peace Corps.

The volunteers who answered brought to their assigned countries some of the world's most potent and irresistible forces: youth, idealism and energy.

But just as important, they brought back to America a new commitment to the world, its challenges, and the hard work and personal sacrifice to solve them.

Problems at home

Over the past five years, we have had both opportunity and cause to turn inward and address the most troubling problems in our own country.

Crime and the fear of crime are our country's most immediate and vexing challenge and nowhere are the idealism and energy of America's youth more sorely needed.

On Dec. 19, the state of Maryland and Baltimore City channeled that energy, graduating the first class of the Maryland Police Corps. Twenty-eight members of this class of 44 college graduates will become Baltimore City police officers. They will be the first of a new breed of law enforcement officer, one not only ready to meet the challenge of crime but also to cement a bond of trust between themselves and the citizens.

The Police Corps was created by President Bill Clinton's 1994 crime bill, but its beginnings go back to 1982, when I began working to promote the idea with Adam Walinsky, the originator of the concept and a former aide to my father, Robert Kennedy. Congress approved legislation establishing the Police Corps, which is now in 17 states.

The Police Corps essentially combines the character of the Peace Corps with the commitment of the ROTC program for military service. High school graduates receive a four-year college scholarship worth up to $30,000 in exchange for their commitment to serve as a police officer for four years. After graduation, recruits spend 16 weeks in the specialized training that teaches physical and technical skills, but more importantly, concentrates on the moral and intellectual needs of today's community police officer.

The Maryland cadets learned to speak, to listen, to watch, to think and to act. They learned they need courage, integrity, self-discipline and the ability and willingness to lead.

Officers who are dedicated, honorable and courageous, whose actions are informed by knowledge of the law and respect for human dignity, will act decently and lawfully.

The most immediate impact Police Corps cities will feel is a fresh jolt of motivated manpower. Over the next year, Baltimore City, for instance, will see 120 new Police Corps cops on the beat.

But just as significant will be the lasting impact that begins four years from now, when this first Police Corps class completes its required term of service.

Many officers will remain in law enforcement and some will elect other careers.

Whether they stay on the force or go, their influence will be profound. Just as Peace Corps alumni returned home with an expanded vision of the world, Police Corps graduates will help spread a new commitment to our communities, our challenges and the hard work and personal sacrifice necessary to solve them.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend chairs the state's cabinet Council on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

Pub Date: 1/05/98

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