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Police return to build neighborhood trust in Freetown Village

Cpl. Mark Bethea stands outside of the Boys and Girls Club Monday before starting his "knock and talk" patrol Bethea is the Police and Community Together officer for Freetown Village and introduced himself to some of the residents.
Cpl. Mark Bethea stands outside of the Boys and Girls Club Monday before starting his "knock and talk" patrol Bethea is the Police and Community Together officer for Freetown Village and introduced himself to some of the residents. (By Brandi Bottalico, Staff)

Cpl. Mark Bethea knocked on doors at the top floor of a Freetown Village apartment building Monday, then worked his way down to the bottom floor and then over to the rest of the building.

He calls this "knock and talks" and hopes they'll help him build relationships with the residents of the Pasadena public housing community as the officer assigned there as part of the reinvigorated "Police and Community Together" program.

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"Look at this face because you'll be seeing it," he joked to residents on Shirley Murphy Court.

The goal is to connect to the community and rebuild residents' trust in police, said Lt. T.J. Smith, police spokesman.

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Police Chief Tim Altomare announced he wanted to bring back this program during a rally in November at the Freetown Village Boys and Girls Club after a fatal shooting. A second homicide followed this month, and a third shooting last fall seriously injured a Freetown resident.

No arrests have been made in the shootings, but all three victims were part of an extended family.

PACT officers will also be assigned to Meade Village, The Orchards at Severn and Pioneer City.

The program was one of many lost to funding cuts over the last 15 years but has been brought back, beginning with Bethea's assignment to Freetown Village.

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Smith was a PACT officer in Meade Village and Pioneer City from 2002 to 2006 and supervised the unit from 2007 to 2012, he said. But it's been about a decade since officers were dedicated to specific areas, rather than being spread across the district.

Bethea's office above the Career Center in Freetown Village hasn't been used since the last PACT officer was there, about a decade ago, he said.

"I'm just glad to have the opportunity to be here full time," Bethea said.

Bethea said he will be more approachable walking the ground during his Monday through Friday shift, as opposed to the occasional patrol car that passes through. He said he hopes his presence will be a deterrent for crime.

To help build relationships, every three or four months Bethea wants to do a knock and talk to check in with residents, find sponsors for Boys and Girls Club activities, organize events and help residents in any way he can.

"It's not going to happen overnight," he said. "I'm just going to take it a day at a time."

Although Bethea said he's set a goal to see some change by June, with residents talking to him more.

Smith said he still keeps in touch with residents from his time as a PACT officer and attends community events. He said he even received a call last week from one of the young men he tried to mentor who calls him here and there to tell him how he's doing.

"Those are the treasures that you hold onto, that you don't know how much of an impact you have on people," Smith said. "Those are the moments you can't put a price tag on."

Bethea, who grew up in Baltimore City but now lives in Glen Burnie, said he always sort of knew he wanted to be a police officer.

"I really wanted to make a difference and make a change in the community," Bethea said.

And officers, as he had explained to the residents of about 36 units Monday, have many resources available to help the community.

After the initial knock, Bethea stood to the side of each door out of habit. Bethea has been an Anne Arundel County Police officer for 17 years, five of them on the Northern District detective unit.

Smith said the PACT position is one that in particular helps people. The ideal PACT officer is even tempered and has the ability to be a teacher, coach, organizer and listener, he said.

Bethea listened to concerns from some of the residents, checking in on exposed wires in a yard and taking note of lights that were out. Most residents welcomed the 6 foot 3 officer, some even invited him in to chat. Their concerns ranged from safety after the shootings, people living in the woods and outsiders causing trouble in the neighborhood.

"They're your eyes and your ears," he said "You need them as an ally."

Twitter.com/brandibot

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