Improve `quality of life,' graduating officers told

Baltimore police get 47 rookies from class

November 06, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's acting police commissioner told a graduating class of officers yesterday that while crime is down, residents do not feel safe, and it is their job to turn the dire situation around.

"The quality of life on the streets is still rotten," Col. Bert Shirey told the department's 47 newest members during a ceremony at the War Memorial building. "And we are going to deal with this. You are going to deal with this."

Shirey's comments are among the first by a top-ranking police official that address the campaign theme of Mayor-elect Martin O'Malley, who has complained of crimes being committed openly and promised to clear away open-air drug markets.

The veteran colonel, who began his career in 1966, did not mention O'Malley's call for zero-tolerance policing -- commanders take pains to stay away from using the term which evokes fears of brutality among some city residents.

Shirey warned officers that they must work with "wisdom, integrity and dignity -- in a way that the citizens of Baltimore will be proud of us."

The hourlong ceremony ended with the officers taking their oath of office. They will begin this week, bolstering a department that has been on a recruiting drive to fill its ranks, which are 350 officers below the full complement of 3,188.

Police officials said yesterday that their efforts are paying off. A class of 48 graduated on July 16, and two more recruiting classes -- each with 51 students -- are scheduled to graduate Feb. 11 and April 14.

These officers are joining a department going through significant change. O'Malley is searching for a police commissioner to replace Thomas C. Frazier, who left last month after O'Malley said he would replace him.

Frazier was sworn in yesterday as head of the U.S. Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing program, responsible for President Clinton's goal of putting 100,000 more officers on the streets.

O'Malley has called for a change in how police work, emulating New York, where crime and homicides are at 30-year lows. He has called for the zero-tolerance method, in which police target minor infractions that can lead to violence.

The strategy and term generate worry in some city neighborhoods, where residents fear it will sanction police brutality and other abuses. O'Malley has repeatedly said he will crack down on police misconduct.

The valedictorian, Officer Steven Harris, said his fellow classmates "often ask ourselves, are we prepared to begin policing? We hear so many words: integrity, leadership, compassion, respect, virtue, morality and values. I would like to add two more: good judgment and common sense."

Shirey noted that while crime is down about 30 percent over the past three years, and homicides could fall below 300 this year for the first time this decade, many problems are left in Baltimore.

He recalled walking a beat at North and Greenmount avenues as a rookie. "The world was much simpler then. I made one drug arrest in a year, and that was by accident."

Shirey said that he "can remember times of peace and tranquillity. People could buy a home the day they were married and live there until they died, and never worry about being run out by drug dealers.

"Now, there are generations of people who have lived side by side with violence, and it's a shame," the colonel said, explaining the most important function of government is to provide safety. "That will be your duty -- the duty to restore order."

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