New officers are urged to keep ethics, respect

Judge advises them to be vigilant against a `superior attitude'

April 03, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A veteran Baltimore circuit judge sternly urged 31 new city police officers at their commencement yesterday to maintain high ethical standards and treat residents with respect as they take on the "awesome responsibility" of protecting the city.

Judge David B. Mitchell, who oversees the Circuit Court's criminal docket, told the young officers that if they cannot perform up to those standards, "then do not step forward when your name is announced to these people in this assembly."

Mitchell, the featured commencement speaker, told the officers gathered at the War Memorial Building that "despite the situation people you encounter are in, they are deserving of your respect as human beings."

FOR THE RECORD - An article on April 3 incorrectly reported the number of shooting incidents involving police recently. Since March 3, four officers have been shot; one was killed. During that same time, police shot four people, killing three. The Sun regrets the error.

The judge, who has been on the bench 17 years, added that "the moment you forget that simple fact is the moment you cease to be a servant of the public because you have adopted some superior attitude."

Mitchell's remarks came after two recent acquittals - one in the killing of a dental student, the other in the death of a police officer - in which juries said they distrusted police and how they investigated the cases.

In an interview later, Mitchell, who has overseen trials of police misconduct and people charged with killing officers, said there was nothing recent that triggered his comments. He said police commanders asked him to speak about ethics.

Yesterday's graduation comes at a tough time for the department. Though crime is dropping, the past month has been unusually violent.

Five officers were shot - one fatally - in three incidents, and police shot three people, killing two.

Mayor Martin O'Malley urged the new officers, who are to hit the streets for the first time without trainers today, to remember that residents are their best asset.

"The most important shield that you have against the dealers, the death and the drugs that have too often occupied our neighborhoods are the good, decent, hard-working and holy people that live in every single block of this city," O'Malley said.

Mitchell picked up on that theme, telling the graduates that he has seen too many corners cut by officers, including those who omit essential details or seize evidence using questionable tactics.

"I have witnessed police officers in court in all the ways you can imagine," the judge said, "and some that you would not like to see or emulate."

Mitchell reminded the officers that even the briefest encounter with a resident can leave a "total impression a person has of you, your department, this city or of the community you serve."

"It is of little importance that you are correct in the decision you make, if the attitude is one of contempt for the public," he said.

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