Dogged defenders of public safety are honored

Correctional awards include K-9 unit

May 12, 2000|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The awards ceremony for employees of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services yesterday went beyond the proverbial dog-and-pony show: It included a real dog show.

The Division of Correction's drug-sniffing K-9 unit trotted onto the field at Blob's Park in Jessup for special recognition of its first-place prize at the national drug trials in Tennessee last month and for the part the unit played in reducing positive drug tests among the state's 25,000 inmates.

In a field of 80 K-9 teams from federal, state and local agencies nationwide, the unit placed first as a department for the dogs' ability to detect drugs and the handlers' ability to read the dogs' signals, said K-9 Capt. Mike Ocker.

Officials also recognized 100 staff and correctional officers from the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, the Division of Parole and Probation and the Division of Correction as part of the "Public Safety and Correctional Employees Week" ceremony.

Each honoree, chosen by committees for such things as attendance, dependability and meritorious service, receives a citation from the governor's office.

"It's a big morale booster," said Division of Correction's spokesman David Towers.

"The staff is recognized for their achievements. They have a tough job."

Capt. Stanley Kernan, assigned to the correction division's headquarters, wasn't on duty when he spotted an inmate running across Madison Street near the Central Booking and Intake Center in Baltimore with a flex handcuff hanging from his wrist.

Kernan stopped his car, chased the suspect two blocks and held him down until Baltimore police officers could retrieve him.

"I knew he had escaped from somewhere," said Kernan, who received a citation yesterday.

Officer Renee Cherry, who was recently applauded by officials, received a citation for noticing inmates trying to escape from the House of Correction Annex in Jessup last month.

Before all four inmates -- who had rappelling gear and other equipment -- could get out of the recreation yard, Cherry had alerted backup officers.

Although one inmate, Harold Dean -- who is serving a life term for murder and robbery -- had escaped from both the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore and its adjacent "Supermax" center, Cherry said, "he didn't escape from me."

Cherry, who said God gave her the feeling something was about to happen, said, "I feel like I'm protecting people on the outside."

Debra Neighoff, a victim services coordinator who was among those honored, said she, too, feels good about protecting people.

Neighoff notifies victims of where inmates are jailed, when court dates are scheduled and when they'll be released. She also oversees a program that shows inmates how crimes have affected victims.

"I see a lot of dropped heads and even some tears," she said.

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