County Police Chief Robert P. Russell used to throw rocks at police cars while growing up in Baltimore. He stopped when the city's Police Department set up a Boys Club and offered him some more positive activities.
The chief used this example Monday night, trying to convince skeptical Freetown Village residents that a similar program can work for their children.
According to the plan, police officers will volunteer free time to take the young residents to baseball games, go on field trips and participate in sports.
"I looked forward to all the things the Boys Club did," Russell told 70 residents who packed the Freetown recreation center. "I used to throw a lot of rocks at police officers until I met some of the guys.
"There is nothing sneaky about what is going on here. We want to give these kids a good summer. You will call the shots. If you don't want to be a part of it, then don't let your child come. If you want to be a part of it, then come along."
The chief, who gave the presentation with the program coordinator, Detective Gordon March, was flanked by his command staff, district captains and patrol officers. The topic of discussion quickly veered from the youth program to how police do their job in the Pasadena-area community plagued by drug dealers.
Some residents were upset that officers routinely stop pedestrians to check that they live in the community. Others complained about police response time, saying it was slow even for emergencies.
"Somebody shoots a gun in here, the police don't come," said Michelle Watts, who has lived in Freetown for five years. "I enjoyed it when the police were here a lot."
Residents also complained that visitors are harassed by police.
Police said drug dealers come from outside the village, so officers check people standing on corners to make sure they are residents or have a legitimate reason for being there.
Russell said the more the officers are integrated into the community, the more they will know the residents and be able to pick out people who don't belong.
"Why do they have to get to know us to treat us like human beings?" asked Tammy Horne, a Glen Burnie resident who frequently visits the community.
"The message will go out to the roll calls where the officers congregate. We will try to be sensitive," Russell said. "[The officers] know we told them to get in here and keep drugs out. Sometimes they get a little excited."
But the chief said his officers will continue to be aggressive.
"We can't stay out on Mountain Road and write tickets. That would be the easy way to police. We're going to come in where we are needed."
But the officers don't have to be on duty. In fact, Russell said, the idea behind the youth program is to give the children a chance to see the officers as individuals.
"We want the officers to come in and interact with the children on their own time," said March. "We want the children to know we are just as they are. We're human. You see them in uniform. We want to the kids to see them when they are out of uniform."
The program, which will start in June when school lets out for the summer, will include trips to Orioles games, swimming, basketball games, zoo trips and boat outings on the Chesapeake Bay.
Police officials are soliciting county businesses for donations to pay for field trips and other activities, Russell said.
"A whole generation of youth in our public housing areas, most of them minorities, are in danger of being written off as hopeless," the program literature says. "Delinquency, crime and drugs are rampant among them, and too many people believe the only answer is to lock 'em all up and throw away the key. The Anne Arundel County Police Department believes that it is time to try another approach to this problem."