Adam Walinsky's dream to put more and better-educated police officers on America's streets is about to become reality in Baltimore.
For nearly 15 years, the New York lawyer with ideals shaped by Robert F. Kennedy and the turmoil of the Vietnam era has relentlessly badgered politicians and pushed his agenda of a police recruiting program patterned after the Peace Corps.
Officials plan to formally announce the state-administered Police Corps program next month. Students selected would receive $7,500 a year in federal funds for college tuition in their chosen vocation. In return, they pledge to become police officers for four years.
Police chiefs see the corps in practical terms -- more money and more officers. Baltimore would get $7 million in federal funds the first year and plans to hire 50 police officers starting in January. But Walinsky and his longtime friend, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, see it as a crusade.
"Thirty years ago, a generation of Americans joined the Peace Corps to make life better abroad," Townsend said. "Right now, crime is the biggest threat to our democracy, and we're going to recruit a new generation of Americans to build peace and security at home."
Walinsky believes that cities are in frightful condition. Idealistic young men and women -- no matter what their intended vocation -- ought to be willing to patrol dangerous streets out of duty to their country, he said.
"We have to say to them: 'You don't get a pass,' " Walinsky said. "You don't get a waltz to the best schools and the best jobs. If you want to end up running the country, you have got to spend some time living with its problems."
Walinsky enjoys wide support for his program, from police unions to politicians of opposing ideology who stood shoulder to shoulder on the floor of the House of Representatives to sing its praises.
There are also some reservations. A noted criminologist from Maryland believes the program is "insulting to exist- ing police officers."
"The basic difference in the way I see policing and this program is that policing to me is a career, a vocation," said Lawrence Sherman, chairman of the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland College Park.
"To the Police Corps, it's a public service that is better done by the young and enthusiastic than the older and wiser."
The head of the International Association of Chiefs of Police views a four-year commitment as being detrimental to recruiting career officers.
"There is the disturbing premise that there is something wrong with policing, and the way we are going to correct it is by taking a gamble to bring in people who want a college education," said Dan Rosenblatt, president of the association.
The long fight Walinsky has waged has not been without problems. He crisscrossed the country to iron out disputes over how officers would be trained -- issues that have yet to be fully resolved in Baltimore.
But the troubles won't stand in the way of the announcement, when the U.S. Department of Justice will award the first $10 million grant, to be divided between Maryland, North and South Carolina, Oregon, Arkansas and Nevada. Maryland is getting most of the money.
"The only thing I'm unhappy about is that in some ways, this is a reform that was already 10 years too late when we proposed it," Walinsky said. "I would like to feel that had we gotten to it sooner, we could have saved a few people."
Asking Walinsky to describe the Police Corps is like asking a television evangelist to talk about God. The bald, stocky ex-Marine launches into a steady stream of apocalyptic rhetoric -- "The seeds of this program are the seeds of America's present urban catastrophe" is his opening line in a three-hour interview.
And his view of this country's condition gets worse. A decade ago, he maintains, the nation had three police officers for every violent crime. Now, he says, that trend has reversed, with three times as many violent crimes as there are officers.
All the talk about lower crime statistics is "absurdity," he contends. He knows what people can do with numbers -- he wrote a cover story for the Atlantic Monthly called "The Crisis of Public Order" and a series of speeches for Robert Kennedy on the urban crises of the '60s.
He whispers as if he's about to pass on a state secret and blow a conspiratorial cover-up: "You know the numbers, what's going on," he says. "Is it getting any better out there? You have got to be kidding me."
At times, he sounds like the liberal he is -- a learned apostle of Kennedy -- and a fervent anti-Vietnam War protester who organized demonstrations in New York.
At other times he resembles a neo-conservative launching into a tirade against lowered hiring standards within police departments. In an effort to increase the number of minorities, he contends, departments nationwide reached too far down into the hiring pool.
"So you end up chopping your standards, not only for intelligence but for criminal activity," Walinsky said. "We recruited a significant number of people with criminal records. We take people in who have bad character to start with, who have committed crimes; these people aren't all of a sudden going to become good people because they put on a uniform and a badge. They are liable to be worse. There was sort of a general collapse of the idea that police work was important.
"How do we take the police and instead of having them be a barrier which we are always striving to make impenetrable, make them instead an agency of bringing law, decency and justice for people who are desperate to have this a part of their lives?"
The answer, he maintains, is more and better educated police. And to get them, he looked to the military's Reserve Officer Training Corps. "Why do we only do this for the military and we don't do it for the police?" he asked.
And so the idea for Police Corps was born. Ultimately, Walinsky wants 80,000 members nationwide. After college, they will attend a 16-week live-in training camp. To get the program under way, police will first target graduates just emerging from college, offering to reimburse them for courses already taken in exchange for a commitment.
Walinsky met his wife, Jane, at Yale Law School. His son, Peter, 33, is a surgical resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and his daughter Laura, 30, works as a management consultant in Washington.
Walinsky, who has never been a police officer, considers himself a simple citizen -- he doesn't get paid, but has set up a foundation to help pay expenses -- waging a grass-roots campaign to sell a program to a police industry skeptical of outsiders. But in many ways, the 59-year-old Scarsdale, N.Y., resident is a seasoned and sophisticated insider.
At 26, he joined the staff of Robert Kennedy's Justice Department. In 1964, he followed Kennedy to the Senate, becoming a top aide and speech writer. To this day, he extols the Kennedy name, and he uses his decades-old contacts to get politicians to hear his program.
Later, he served on the New York State Commission on Investigation and made an unsuccessful bid for New York attorney general. He ran anti-Vietnam protests in New York's Bryant Park, and was a partner in a law firm in the nearby Grace Building until the Police Corps consumed all his time.
Walinsky is no stranger to publicity. He called a news conference when he thought of the Police Corps idea back in 1982, and the New York Times and other newspapers have repeatedly editorialized on its merits.
But he failed to get it going in Massachusetts -- where skeptical unions expressed doubts and even Sen. Edward M. Kennedy didn't sign on for a number of years -- and in New York. It was in 1989 that he began his push for national legislation, which finally came with the passage of the Crime Bill in 1994, helped by President Clinton's push to put 100,000 additional police officers on the nation's streets.
To understand Walinsky is to learn how he has persistently lobbied his program through 12 years of political undercurrents. He talked his way into police chief meetings and prodded small-town police chiefs into support that he slowly built with political savvy.
He visited newspapers and clipped supportive editorials for politicians, hoping to convince them of positive press if they signed on.
He got Rep. Robert K. Dornan, a staunch Republican conservative from California, to stand next to Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts and one of the most liberal members of Congress, to extol the program on the House floor.
"Adam was in my office about every hour, nudging me," said Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who represents Maryland's 3rd Congressional District. "He's a pretty persistent person."
Over the years, Walinsky has gained access to offices that others could only dream about. He walks into Cardin's office unannounced. "He never scheduled an appointment," Cardin said.
It was the same with Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, who first looked at the program when he was the patrol commander in San Jose, Calif., and has met with Walinsky 25 times in the past three years.
Walinsky met Townsend while working for her father, and he isn't shy about waking Maryland's lieutenant governor up at 6 a.m., and in her words, giving "his vision of what is happening in America."
Mention Walinsky's name and some people cringe. He can talk endlessly. He badgers. He never gives up. Supporters call him dedicated beyond belief. Even Walinsky acknowledges that his style has turned people off.
"I'm a world-class pain," Walinsky said. "I plead absolutely guilty and without any shame. But Congress didn't give us $10 million in '96 and $20 million in '97 because I'm a pain in the neck. The reason we got the money is because they understood this is a really good idea."
But Rosenblatt, of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which has 13,000 members worldwide, rejects the program as an affront to police officers who would like to further their education, but won't be allowed to touch the money.
Critics also wonder how willing college graduates will be to put their lives on the line -- particularly those heading off to white-collar jobs.
"I think it's going to attract people who want a four-year ride in college for free," Rosenblatt said. "They will do the minimum and move on. That's not how you establish a solid police force."
Sherman, from the University of Maryland, said, "I think a lot of people are attracted to policing for similar reasons that they are selected to the Police Corps.
"But we are a different nation now. We have a more jaded or cynical notion of people."
But Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the city police union and a persistent critic of Frazier, is an ardent supporter. "I don't think it takes a college education to be a good police officer, but maybe we have raised the bar a little bit," he said.
McLhinney credits Walinsky with talking to rank-and-file Baltimore police officers and incorporating their ideas.
"Decisions aren't being made by a bunch of bureaucrats and commanders who haven't been on the street for 30 years," McLhinney said. "We pick some of the best cops in Baltimore, brought them in and said, 'Tell Adam what it takes to be a good cop and what kind of training you need.' "
Frazier, who met last month with Walinsky, said the program "will bring to us quality police officer candidates and future leaders."
Frazier believes half the corps members will remain on the force past four years. The rest, he said, will become strong law enforcement advocates in the private sector "with an understanding of law enforcement that you can't get any other way."
The chief said the corps will attract dedicated officers, even if they stay for only a short time. "Cops don't join the Police Department to get rich," he said. "You join the Police Department because you believe you can make a difference. I think the service ethic is alive and well."
Pub Date: 11/21/96