14 new officers now will take their experience and talents into the community

Police focus is on diversity

August 11, 2006|By JORGE VALENCIA | JORGE VALENCIA,SUN REPORTER

In his graduation speech for the 28th class of the Howard County Police Academy, new officer Corey Immer applauded diversity in his graduating group.

"Some of us are from Maryland, New York, [Washington] D.C. and even Colorado," said Immer, the class speaker. "Two of us are fluent in Spanish and one of us in Korean. Some of us are out of the military. ... Some of us are fresh out of college."

Those 14 freshmen police officers -- including two from Annapolis, which does not have its own academy -- now take their diverse backgrounds, experience and talents into the communities they will serve, from the new subdivisions of western Howard County to the neighborhoods of the state capital.

The 12 Howard County recruits push the police force in the county to 386 officers. Half of the class has the college background Immer talked about.

The Howard County Police Department is one of two departments in the state -- the other is in Montgomery County -- that requires new recruits to have two years of college education or equivalent military experience.

"In Howard County there's an expectation the police can deal with the people that reside in the community," said acting Police Chief William McMahon, who attended Wednesday's graduation at Marriots Ridge High School.

"Howard County is a very well-educated community, and the issues we face as police officers are increasingly complex," he said. "There may be an argument that recruits with that type of education can deal better with those types of issues."

According to the U.S. Census, about half the Howard County population over 25 holds at least a bachelor's degree.

The 28th class is the first to graduate during McMahon's term. It was former county Police Chief Wayne Livesay who created the college requirement in 2000, and upon his retirement last May, he said one of two things he left undone was requiring recruits to have four-year college degrees.

However, according to McMahon, raising the bar for recruits should be done with caution.

"We have to be very careful that when we increase criteria we don't screen out people that may be potentially good candidates," McMahon said.

But rising in rank with the department can also depend on having some college education.

When McMahon entered the Howard County Police Academy in 1986, for example, there was no college requirement. However, he held a bachelor's degree in law enforcement from the University of Maryland. Later, as a full-time officer, he earned a master's degree in administrative science from Johns Hopkins University.

"We encourage that. ... We want our officers to further their development," said Deputy Chief of Administration Gary Gardner, who held a master's degree in criminal justice when he entered the police academy in 1984. "We encourage and want our officers to improve themselves."

Lt. Mark Joyce, commander of the academy, said the academy tries to break down "the college effect." In the classroom, "they're not allowed to spout off or turn over to the next person and talk," Joyce said.

Immer, the speaker of the 28th class, earned an undergraduate degree in Spanish in 2001 from Colorado State University. Although his initial goal was not to become an officer, he had an interest in law enforcement, and upon graduation worked as a probation officer in Colorado.

"After a while I realized I didn't just want to be supervising people," Immer said.

"I realized I wanted to help people and wanted to be putting in the arrests and putting the criminals behind bars," he said.

jorge.valencia@baltsun.com

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