Cops, kids fish for better relationship

Not long after boarding a boat with an Annapolis police officer this week, DeSean Turner, 11, boasted that he would catch at least 40 fish, but he refused to touch the worms without using needle-nose pliers.

The other boy on the boat, 13-year-old Jordan Bowdry, set a goal to touch neither a wiggly worm nor a flopping fish the entire day.

To Sgt. Kevin Krauss, they were the ideal pair of fishing companions: boys picked from Annapolis neighborhoods where an officer's presence usually means trouble.

"Instead of seeing us out there locking up their friends and family members, they can see us in a different light," Krauss said. "They can see that we're human and that they can fish with us."

Changing that perception and a distrust of officers was one of Lt. Brian Della's goals when he launched the department's fishing camp 12 years ago. About 20 low-income Annapolis children boarded a flotilla of seven boats Tuesday morning at Sandy Point State Park for the Annapolis Police Department Fish Camp, which attempts to build bonds between children and police officers.

The department has hosted weeklong soccer, football and "CSI"-style crime scene camps, but the fishing camp is the only one with enough demand to be held twice each summer.

"We have 40 hours with the kid, and we're just trying to make a difference," Della said. "Police officers are going into neighborhoods now, and kids are calling them by their names."

For the first time, the department solicited private boats to ferry about boys and girls selected by city recreation center directors to spend a day on the Chesapeake Bay. The cost for a half-day charter rental had exceeded $1,900, and the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association agreed to put out a call that was instantly answered by volunteers.

"It's just showing the boys [and girls] a good time, but we're planning for it like it's a million-dollar bass tournament," said Skip Zinck, one of the volunteers who donated their boats, bait, fishing poles and a weekday morning to the program.

When Jordan's father signed up him and his brother, who rode on Zinck's boat and helped reel in a dozen rockfish, the Bowdry boys thought a week with the Annapolis Police Department was bad news.

"My dad made it sound like we were in trouble, like we were going to some sort of boot camp," Jordan said. "And then he [Krauss] rang the doorbell and said it was fish camp."

Jordan's in eighth grade at Corkran Middle School, good at math and enrolled in an enrichment program designed to help him get into college. Before this week, he had never met his partner on the boat, DeSean, a sixth-grader at Bates Middle School who plays the trombone. Both boys, though, quickly agreed on what this fishing business was all about.

"So, which one of you is going to bait my hook and all that?" Jordan asked Krauss and the captain of their boat, David Miller.

"I don't like when it squirms," Jordan said. "It's nasty."

Other police departments have developed outreach programs to connect with at-risk youth. Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties' police departments do "shop-with-a-cop" activities during the holidays. Baltimore City has an outdoors camp, and Howard County police have athletic camps and a youth police academy event.

Annapolis appears to have the only fish camp in the region, and both officers and captains reveled in what makes fishing far more than a way to catch a meal.

"In what other sport can you sit around and talk all day while you're doing it?" asked Miller, a father of four who took the day off to volunteer his services.

In between the harried maintenance of four poles that seemed to attract only the smallest fish in the Chesapeake Bay, the men told the boys tales of how Krauss had dreamed of being a police officer since he was a toddler pulling over neighborhood kids on his tricyclel and handing out speeding tickets. Or how Miller once swam like crazy for shore when he thought two sharks were chasing him, only to discover that they were the parallel fins of a friendly cownose ray skimming the surface of the bay. Or how the best way to ruin your fishing luck is to bring a banana on a boat.

The boat's fish tally had topped 20 by the time Miller proposed doing some drifting — letting the hooks drag along the bottom of the bay — to catch some bigger fish.

"It's like you're sitting on your couch and someone bounces a Pop-Tart in front of your face, and you say, 'Oh, thanks. I'll eat that.'" Miller said by way of explaining the method.

"A Pop-Tart doesn't have a hook in it," Jordan said, setting off peals of laughter in the boat.

At fish No. 38, DeSean decided he was done throwing the littler fish back.

"Sure you don't want to let him live another day?" Krauss asked. "He's kind of small."

"Nope," DeSean said, tossing the fish into a cooler as another boat floated by and announced its fish tally was higher.

"Remember that they're fishermen," Miller said.

"And fishermen always lie," Krauss said.

Somewhere around fish No. 54, Krauss started to tease DeSean, too.

"Your number keeps doubling, five at a time," Krauss said.

"No," DeSean said, reeling in another under-6-incher and upping his tally by a few fish. "Trust me."

Back ashore, they learned two other boats piloted by sport fishermen had pulled in the day's limit of rockfish, which captains cleaned so each child was sent home with two big fillets.

The boys and girls, just like the officers and the fishermen, began trading stories on the dock about who got skunked, who failed to reel in a 30-inch rockfish, who dropped a bloody fish on her foot and who hooked a perch large enough to get a certificate. The children lined up with the fish for pictures, and the sportsmen taught them the age-old technique of holding the fish away from you to make it look bigger.

"We might not have caught the most fish," Miller told the boys from his boat. "But we had the most fun."

"And we had the best boat," DeSean said.

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