Officer strikes a balance

Goal: As Long Reach's new HotSpot coordinator, James Iacarino hopes to have "enough time to do the kinds of policing I wanted to do."

Columbia

May 14, 2002|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN STAFF

Were it not for his light-blue Howard County police uniform - a dead giveaway - few would identify James Iacarino as an officer when he strolls through the hallways of Long Reach High School.

His easy small talk and the way he guides an eighth-grader through the high school during a tour make Iacarino seem more like a guidance counselor than an authority figure.

In his new role as Long Reach HotSpot coordinator, Iacarino must balance two personalities: tough officer on the beat capable of rooting out troublemakers and compassionate activist dedicated to crime prevention.

For the past month, Iacarino - often called "Ike" - has been trying to become an integral part of Howard County's longest-standing designated HotSpot.

Long Reach, one of the first 35 areas in Maryland to receive HotSpot grant funds, has had a community policing officer since 1997. Until last month, that officer had been Pfc. Lisa Myers.

Iacarino, who has patrolled Columbia - concentrating mostly on Long Reach - since he joined the department in April 2000, stepped in as HotSpot coordinator after Police Chief Wayne Livesay tapped Myers to join the department's expanded public-information unit.

The 26-year-old officer said he applied for the position because he worked the Long Reach beat for more than a year and wanted some experience other than patrol.

"I was working the busiest beat in Howard County, which didn't give me enough time to do the kinds of policing I wanted to do," he said. "In patrol, you often don't have time to do much more than make a cursory appearance."

Although HotSpot officers spend much of their time as community police officers, Myers said Iacarino will find that "there's no such thing as a typical week."

As a HotSpot officer, Iacarino will make arrests and patrol the streets, but he will also spend time meeting and talking with Long Reach residents and setting up outreach programs with schools and community organizations.

He presents himself as a big brother-turned-police officer.

Last week, he gave soon-to-be Bonnie Branch Middle School graduate Dean Schroyer, 13, a personal walk-through of Long Reach High School. Dean missed the general orientation last month, but Iacarino said he was happy to play tour guide.

The pair spent about an hour and a half walking the halls, peeking into classrooms and meeting with staff members.

At one point, after they had established that Dean's favorite subject is math and that he does not play sports, Iacarino asked if the teen had plans to join choir or band.

"You think I can sing?" Dean responded incredulously.

Befriending Dean and his peers - people on the cusp of their potentially turbulent teen-age years -is one of Iacarino's goals, he said.

Regardless of Iacarino's demeanor, students in the hallways sit up a little straighter and chattering teens quiet their conversations when they see the police uniform.

Pfc. Steve Yi, school resource officer at Long Reach, said it will be "quite helpful for Officer Iacarino to establish a decent rapport with the students here."

"They are aware of what's going on in the community," he said. "It's important for him to develop relationships with them so that they can go to him if they need advice or need to tell him about something that occurred."

Iacarino said he will also try to forge friendships with people such as Myron Mills, resident advocate at the Bentana and Sierra Woods apartment buildings.

Mills and Iacarino have organized a Citizens on Patrol group in Long Reach, which will serve as additional sets of eyes and ears for police, Iacarino said.

"So far, he's been very responsive when I call," Mills said of Iacarino. "He's getting things done, which is just what we need."

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