Officer says his beat helps prevent problems

Proposal would put police in six more county schools

May 05, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Officer Donald T. Bridges sees himself as part-time teacher, part-time public relations agent -- and full-time cop.

"The most important thing is that I am constantly being visible," said Bridges, a six-year Baltimore County police veteran assigned to Milford Mill Academy in Woodlawn.

Bridges is one of two officers assigned full time in county high schools to teach classes, prevent fights and make the schools safer.

Under a $306,000 proposal in County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's $1.7 billion budget, officers would be placed in six more schools next fall. The County Council is due to vote by month's end on the plan.

"People have been asking me, `Are our schools that unsafe that we need police officers in them full time, or wouldn't it be better if we had the officers out on the street?' " said Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican who visited Milford Mill yesterday.

Bridges told Skinner that his uniformed presence has discouraged crowds from gathering near school when classes are dismissed and reduced the number of assaults, drug deals and other incidents in the neighborhood nearby.

Bridges said he routinely arrives at 6: 50 a.m. and spends the first 35 minutes outside the school on Washington Avenue making sure students get to class safely.

He also patrols the halls during the change of classes, attends most school dances and athletic events and teaches occasional classes for ninth-graders on violence prevention.

Bridges, in his third year at the school, said he can recognize about 98 percent of the school's 1,300 students. Because he knows them, many are more likely to come to him with problems, he said.

This year, he said, one student confided to him about another student's carrying a knife and threatening suicide. The tip prompted him to take the teen into his office, get the knife away from her, alert her parents and set her up with a counselor.

In another case, he earned a citation from county police after he arrested a motorist who had been harassing a student near the school, and confiscated $21,000 worth of cocaine from the motorist's car.

"It's nothing more than building relationships with young folks," Bridges said.

Students at the school yesterday expressed mixed opinions about the officer's presence.

Timothy Hall, a 17-year-old junior, said having an officer in the halls makes him uncomfortable.

"It makes it seem like a prison here," Hall said. "I could see if they had maybe a security guard, but a regular police officer? I don't see the need."

But Danielle Green, a 17-year-old senior, said Bridges' presence has cut rowdy behavior before and after school.

"A few years ago there was always fights, and you don't see that anymore," she said.

Officer Joseph Goralczyk, the other school resource officer, is assigned to Pikesville High School. If Ruppersberger's proposal is approved, officers will be assigned to Woodlawn, Kenwood, Randallstown, Overlea, Dundalk and Franklin high schools, officials said.

Skinner promised to support funding for the six new officers next year. "I'd like to see this in the schools in my district right now," he said.

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