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Wilkens Police Station commander talks about first months on the job

ConservationTheftPublic OfficialsCommunity College of Baltimore County

Capt. Douglas Irwin had only been in command of the Wilkens Police Station for about two months when the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., took place in December 2012.

The incident hit home for Irwin, the father on two, what with University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the Catonsville campus of Community College of Baltimore County; three public high schools; and multiple middle, elementary and private schools in the precinct.

"Everybody was shaken to their core over that," Irwin said.

Since the incident, Irwin said each school in the county has been evaluated under a school security survey to see where safety measures can be improved.

"On the heels of what happened in Connecticut, we had to make huge adjustments to how we're dealing with schools in general," Irwin said.

Police are now increasing the visibility of uniformed officers in and around area schools, among other measures.

"Being able to manage the resources and giving people that sense of security was a major issue for us," he said.

Besides coping with the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, Irwin has faced a number of challenges in his time at the Wilkens Station thus far.

"We've had to deal with a number of serious crime trends," Irwin said on March 18 as he looked back at his first months in command.

Irwin approaches crime with what he calls a three-prong approach.

"We look to prevent it, we look to solve it when it's happened and we look to alleviate, if not eliminate, the fear involved in that," Irwin said.

"The first two are easy," he said. "We have resources, this agency, if you do a crime in Baltimore County, you're going to get caught."

However, according to Irwin, an active community, along with engaged elected officials and "good old fashioned police work" are making his experience in the Wilkens precinct, which covers both Catonsville and Arbutus, a good one.

"Right out of the gate, what I did was, reach out to what we call the stakeholders in the area," said Irwin, a 20-year police veteran.

"And what's very unique about this is, it's a very neighborhood specific area," he said.

He said he has a team of officers attend the meetings of more than 20 community groups throughout the area to ensure an open channel for communications and concerns.

Those officers, "go to literally every community meeting and every public event and really beat the drum of prevention, prevention, prevention," Irwin said.

And according to Irwin, the open line of communication with community members is working well.

"I've never seen the kind of community involvement in anywhere that I've worked that rivals this," Irwin said.

Irwin said the area's elected officials also help keep him and his officers aware of what is happening in the community.

"That's a really, really important partnership because they get inquiries about stuff that helps us do our thing," he said.

"I would say that we've certainly continued what was, and are continuing what was, an in-place system of trying to work with the community," he said.

Though he couldn't say whether or not he feels there has been an improvement in crime levels since he began as captain, he commended his officers for their hard work arresting those involved in multiple strings of armed robberies in the area recently.

"We did it from good old fashioned police work," Irwin said.

The biggest challenge facing the precinct, Irwin said, are smaller, "quality-of-life" issues such as people speeding in residential areas and parking complaints.

"That's the biggest thing is learning how to delegate your resources to dealing with those quality-of-life issues," Irwin said.

He stressed that some of the crimes that occur most frequently in the area like car theft and burglaries from residences with unlocked doors, are easily preventable.

"I try to be somewhat lighter toned and a little more humorous with it but it is what you would feel is common sense action," Irwin said.

"Stop leaving your car running while you're inside (the house) and the door is unlocked. Stop doing that," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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