Turning on light to honor fallen police officers


November 06, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

This weekend I'll do what Judith Wagner has been after me to do. I'll put a blue light in the front window. I'll open one of the Christmas boxes and get an electric candle, screw in a blue bulb and set the whole thing in a place where it can be seen from the street. A modest gesture in support of the police among us. Two have died in accidents in Baltimore during the past week - Harold Carey and Barry Wood - and we need a way of paying respects. The blue light is a simple idea, which is why I like it. Judith Wagner suggested it. She lives in Essex, Baltimore County. Her niece Sandra Wagner was a state trooper in Delaware. She was struck by a tractor-trailer on Good Friday 1996 and killed. Judith Wagner keeps a blue light in the window now. She's launched a modest effort to get others to join her. One weekend, between funerals in Baltimore, would be a good time to start.

Rotating responsibility

I see where the mayor of Baltimore doesn't really have all that much say over our Police Department. "If the mayor is going to run the Police Department, why do we need a police commissioner?" the mayor's spokesman said.

Clint Coleman made this comment the other day as the City Council wondered why, with crime dropping in Baltimore but homicides still off the charts - we have the fifth-highest murder rate in the nation - veteran detectives keep rotating out the door and into patrol duty or retirement. The council wants the mayor to halt the policy. But the mayor won't do it. The mayor doesn't interfere. "[Rotation] is not a Schmoke administration policy," Coleman said. (And the secret bombing of Cambodia wasn't a Nixon administration policy. It was a Pentagon adventure.)

The commissioner instituted his rotation policy a few years ago and, almost immediately, a bunch of veterans left the department. In recent weeks, rotation hit the homicide unit, and five more detectives, with 88 years of experience among them, opted for retirement or went along with transfers. More veteran detectives will hit the rotation mill next year.

Why apply the policy to these guys? Why tolerate a brain drain in the Criminal Investigation Bureau? It's a foolish policy in the city that bleeds. I'm paying taxes for better than this. There are ways to inject new blood into CIB without cutting off its head every few years.

But the mayor? He doesn't have much to say. He's not the meddling type. The city schools are pretty much out of his hands by now. George Balog calls the shots in public works. Dan Henson has his own little empire in housing. And apparently the mayor doesn't get too deeply involved in Police Department policy, either.

Mayor Shrug has had the top job for almost 11 years, and the city is moving quickly toward its ninth straight year with more than 300 homicides. "It might be true crime [robberies, car thefts] is down, but people don't feel comfortable," said Councilwoman Agnes B. Welch, putting her finger on the significance of the murder numbers. "Statistics say one thing. How people feel is another."

So the council suggests the Police Department try what other cities have tried - a zero-tolerance campaign to reduce crime in general and homicides in particular. Our Ivy League-educated mayor responded to this with a letter asking council members what they mean by "zero tolerance." More than 3,100 homicides during his tenure as mayor, and he wants to argue semantics.

Do we have a rotation policy at City Hall?


Bride-to-be trying on gowns in a Glen Burnie shop: "I like how this covers up my tattoo." ... And then there was the woman in the Merchant's Tire & Auto, Towson, who, one recent Monday morning, berated the counter guys for refusing to take her bad check! From what we gathered, this was a $1,600 check that Merchant's checked with a check-checking service. The check-checking service said the check didn't check out. The woman insisted she would make a fresh deposit to her account Friday, pay day. She said she was a loyal customer. She accused the counter guys of "treating me like --------," and threatened to report them to the Better Business Bureau. My God, whatever happened to customer service? ... A 5-year-old Parkville resident named Kristen Poetzel took her first airline flight the other day - to Orlando, Fla., of course, to see Mickey. As they waited to depart BWI, Kristen's mother, Wendy, asked the US Airways flight attendant if she might have a souvenir for a first-time flier. "Do you have wings?" she asked. "Ooh," chimed Kristen. "I like them hot and spicy."

Waltzing 'mushy stuff'

Joey Amalfitano reports: "It was a beautiful thing to behold on election night - Sen. Michael Collins of Essex closing out his victory celebration at the Riverside VFW hall under a hot-pink reflecting disco ball, slow dancing with Nancy Hubers, new member of the House of Delegates. While Collins' party was shutting down at 11, he and Hubers waltzed to 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart.' It was a victory dance for both, see, and as I watched I got a little something in my eye, you know?" Thanks, Joe. But as the 8-year-old boy who lives in our house says: "Cut the mushy stuff."

Pub Date: 11/06/98

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