Police recruits arrive for closer look at city

For one Puerto Rican applicant, a `true American dream'


In Baltimore for barely two days, Felipe Carrasquillo was once-and-for-all convinced yesterday that he's ready to leave Puerto Rico to work as a police officer on the city's toughest streets. In his eyes, the city is clean, the Police Department is well-organized and the people - at least the few he has met - are nice.

And then there's the chance to earn more money and better benefits, compared to what he has been earning in law enforcement on the Caribbean island.

"It's the true American dream," Carrasquillo said.

Crunched by a difficult recruiting climate, the city Police Department went on a weeklong mission last month to Puerto Rico. Police say the city needs more Spanish-speaking officers to help deal with its growing Latino population, and Puerto Rico's police agencies pay their employees far less, making offers from Baltimore attractive.

While in Puerto Rico, police recruiters were stunned by a turnout of more than 900 applicants. More than half of the applicants work as police or corrections officers.

Recruiters did some testing and paperwork processing in Puerto Rico, but they couldn't do it all because of the heavy turnout. So they told the hundreds of applicants who passed the first leg of the process - the written civil service test - that they could come to Baltimore to finish.

The first group, more than 60, arrived yesterday at the department's headquarters on East Fayette Street. Some were waiting before 7 a.m.

Some flew together and shared hotel rooms, paying their own way. Others stayed with friends or relatives in such places as downtown Baltimore, Towson, Greenbelt and Northern Virginia. The city did not pay for their flights.

Domingo Santiago, an officer with the Policia de Puerto Rico, the island's main law enforcement agency, is staying in a Motel 6 in Linthicum with his partner and two other officers from his department. The husband and father of three said he is willing to uproot his family.

"I want to come now," said Santiago, 30. "I like this city. It's my first time here."

He said he was told to check out places to live in Howard and Harford counties, not being deferred by the fact most houses there are usually out of reach for most police officers' salaries."I want a big house, with a pool and a picnic area," he said gleefully. "My boy said, `Papi, I want to go with you now!'"

Later in the day, after passing the polygraph test, Santiago said: "I need this job, man."

Officers conducted interviews, fingerprinting, polygraphs, psychological and physical agility tests, and other paperwork. One tiled hallway in headquarters was turned into a temporary physical testing zone, where applicants were asked to drag a 160-pound dummy for 50 feet in under 12.3 seconds. Some slipped and fell along the way, but most passed.

After one-on-one interviews, officers took photos of each applicant. Medical exams, psychological interviews and more testing is expected to continue through Monday.

Several still have to complete the running requirement, for whichthey have to run 1 1/2 miles in under 16 minutes and 28 seconds.

Police hope that, from the hundreds of applicants just from Puerto Rico, they will be able to hire dozens of recruits, potentially assembling several academy classes of cadets. A typical class has about 35 or 40 cadets.

The infusion of new officers is needed. The Police Department is short at least 130 officers on a force that is authorized to employ 3,200, and it has been criticized in communities where people say there aren't enough officers.

During the past year, the department has weathered a variety of disputes. Police officers and top commanders have been blamed for making improper arrests - which they deny - prompting a civil lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Allegations of misconduct and corruption by individual officers have also dogged the department.

But most applicants didn't seem aware of the department's recent troubles, saying that they believe it is far more difficult to work as police officers in Puerto Rico.

Police officials say the applicants from Puerto Rico show great promise because many of them are seasoned law enforcement veterans.

Starting salaries for officers in Puerto Rico can be as low as $13,000 for those who work in small towns and municipalities, to $24,000 for those who start with the Policia de Puerto Rico.

Baltimore offers a starting salary of $37,964.

Waiting yesterday to continue the application process at police headquarters, Carrasquillo, 33, talked about how his wife had already begun packing their belongings in anticipation of his hiring. He was impressed with the department when Deputy Commissioner Errol L. Dutton, head of administration, welcomed the applicants in the morning - a gesture from a high-ranking official that would not have occurred in Puerto Rico, he said.

"We're going to be here very soon," Carrasquillo said expectantly, with a smile. "Working."


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