The addition of 39 officers to Howard County's police force will improve community relations and ease the stress on veteran officers, Police Chief James Robey said after graduation ceremonies for the new officers.
The ceremony at Howard Community College Tuesday was for members of the 16th Howard County Police Academy, the first in three years.
The addition of the new graduates pushes the force's strength to 297 sworn officers, the most in the department's 41-year history.
"We're all eager to go out on the street and show that we can meet the task," said new Officer Eric Brown, 29, of Catonsville. "It's not like on television, with all the blazing guns. It's just about helping people and trying to make a difference."
The addition of the new officers follows three years without growth at the department. The economic downturn of recent years stalled the department's hiring of new officers. Vacancies were left unfilled, and the demands on officers increased, Chief Robey said.
The new officers join the force as the new Scaggsville District station prepares for its scheduled opening in February.
"This class gives other officers more time to go out into the community and get involved," Chief Robey said. "It brings a different outlook as to what policing is all about."
Community policing, one of Chief Robey's top priorities, involves officers working with residents to fight crime.
Officers respond to about 86,000 calls from citizens each year.
Although the county's population increased from about 187,000 in 1990 to about 209,000 in 1993, the number of police officers stayed the same, Chief Robey said.
Since January 1989, the department's authorized strength -- the maximum number of officers the county was allowed to have -- had remained at 277, although the actual number was below that because of vacancies.
With this year's academy class, the authorized strength grows to 297.
"We've been doing more with less," said Lt. William J. Pollack, commander of the academy's education and training division.
"It's still not enough," he said, noting that another academy is being considered for July 1994.
The new recruits, who went on patrol this week, will take pressure off veteran officers. The lack of new officers interfered with vacations, overtime and leave, department administrators said.
Tuesday night, graduates of the academy, wearing crisp new blue uniforms, were awarded badges and certificates. The 39 new officers, who draw a starting salary of $25,255, had been chosen from more than 1,500 applicants.
Since April, the group had endured 34 weeks of vigorous field training, instruction in the use of force and studies in civil rights and constitutional law.
Officer Suzanne Steves, 26, of Columbia, one of three women who graduated Tuesday, said she is relieved that the training is over.
"We've made it this far," Officer Steves said. "The new pressure now is to just go out and do the right thing."
Officer Mark Richmond, who won the academy's leadership award, said he looks forward to his involvement in the community-oriented policing program.
"I want to make sure people have a positive experience with us," Officer Richmond said. "The Rodney King episode, we've got to get over that."