When a female "Officer Friendly" gets socked in the stomach by an 8-year-old boy, as happened last month in a widely reported occurrence at a West Baltimore elementary school, you begin to get the idea that police aren't admired and respected as much as they used to be.
Closer public and media scrutiny of incidents of police corruption, incompetence and brutality partly account for this shift in attitude. Certainly the videotape of the March 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles officers did little to help the image of police.
It's wise to keep a watchful eye on how our law enforcement officers carry out their role. At the same time, this wariness should be balanced with an appreciation of how tough a job the police have and how well they perform it most of the time.
Twenty-four Howard County residents have a better understanding of the work of police after recently becoming the first graduates of the county's Citizens' Police Academy.
During the three-month program, each of the 24 civilians racked up about 40 hours learning about the sorts of situations cops routinely encounter. The students shot weapons on a firing range, participated in mock car chases, tried out the Howard department's new Shoot/Don't Shoot simulator and learned about local use-of-force policies and evidence-collection procedures.
All the participants, who ranged from a 16-year-old high school student to a married couple to a 74-year-old chaplain, completed the program and gave it high marks. One of them observed, "It opened your eyes to what goes on in the police department on a regular basis."
Police officials also spoke favorably of the academy and its first class.
"We didn't try to win you over. All we wanted you to do is take a look at our side of it," Police Chief James Robey told the class members as he handed them certificates of appreciation for having completed the course.
The next two sessions of the academy -- scheduled for next spring and next fall -- are already booked full. Lt. Jay Zumbrun, a course instructor, noted, "Future classes can only get better."
Thanks to this commendable program in Howard, the same can be said for public appreciation of police work.