Aftershocks from the O. J. Simpson trial are being felt for thousands of miles, damaging the credibility of police across the nation, top police officials from the Baltimore area said yesterday.
"Today there is more mistrust and more fear of the police than ever before. People are having trouble telling who the good guys are and who the bad guys are," Howard County Police Chief James N. Robey said, kicking off a series of monthly meetings for police officials to address common problems.
The Mark Fuhrman tapes in the Simpson trial, the conviction last month of a New Orleans policewoman for murdering a colleague, and the arrest of a federal agent for stealing laundered drug money have eroded the image of police, Chief Robey said.
"If we don't get up on the pulpit and preach to our folks about moral, ethical behavior we will be considered the bad guys," he added in his speech to law enforcement, community and business leaders at the Turf Valley Country Club in Ellicott City.
The Field Commanders Forum is designed for top police commanders and government officials from Baltimore City and Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties to discuss common problems and solutions to auto theft, drugs and other crime.
The first forum focused on image problems triggered by the Simpson trial, when taped interviews of retired Detective Mark Fuhrman cast doubt on the integrity of the investigation and the Los Angeles Police Department. Mr. Simpson was acquitted Tuesday of two counts of murder.
The three chiefs and Baltimore's commissioner called for more stringent selection standards for recruits, and better leadership training for supervisors.
"If we don't provide proper training, then it's our fault. We're playing a lot of catch-up ball here," Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier told the police commanders.
Mr. Frazier and Anne Arundel County Chief Robert A. Beck talked about the increasing need for community policing as crime increases because of unemployment, the growing rate of poverty and rampant drug abuse. They also called for harsher penalties for juvenile offenders.
"For those officers who say, 'I didn't take this job to be social workers,' my reaction is, I'm sorry I hired you," Mr. Frazier said. "Someone who wants to drive fast and kick butt, maybe this isn't the right job for them. But for someone who wants to drive slowly, look someone in the eye and say, 'How are you doing ma'am?' -- that's more the person we're looking for."
Chief Michael D. Gambrill of Baltimore County explored the same themes by emphasizing the need for partnerships with private security companies that can handle such duties as escorts, parking enforcement and prison transportation.
"The private security industry is growing and we're not. We cannot continue to be everything to everybody," he said, calling for new laws to improve training standards for security companies.
Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III added, "We have to understand that the city's problems will eventually become our problems."