Next generation of city officers is Police Corps They're armed with college degrees, 4-year commitment

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Cristin Treaster came to Baltimore to be a doctor. But the Connecticut native and Johns Hopkins University graduate is coming back to be a cop.

Michael Jones grew up among drug dealers in inner-city Baltimore and lost a brother to the violent city streets, but he chose college over selling crack cocaine. He too will soon join the force.

They are the next generation of Baltimore police officers. Armed with four-year degrees, Treaster and Jones are part of a new federal program called Police Corps that aims to put better-educated police officers on patrol.

Each of the 40 recruits in Baltimore will earn up to $10,000 a year -- which Treaster, Jones and other graduates in the first class can use retroactively -- to help pay their college tuition in exchange for a four-year commitment on the city force; they will get paid a salary by the city. The payoff, proponents hope, is a new breed of officer who can take classroom lessons to the real-life streets.

"We can elevate the quality of police," said George B. Brosan, a former Maryland State Police superintendent and the new director of the Police Corps academy in Linthicum, which opens its doors Sunday.

If a police corps recruit is not a better officer than what is on the street now, Brosan says, "we will be a failure."

The Police Corps -- launched with federal grant money in Charleston, S.C., and Baltimore -- is the brainchild of Adam Walinsky, a New York lawyer who has been pushing to establish such a program for 15 years.

He worked tirelessly to persuade Congress to shell out $10 million last year and $40 million in 1998, and to find police departments that would embrace the idea. Walinsky, a former speech writer for Robert F. Kennedy, got Kennedy's daughter, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, on board to push the program in Maryland.

"I think we have set extraordinarily high standards," Townsend said. "We are recruiting the next generation of leaders who will be critically aware of how vital law enforcement is to our communities.

"We are not looking for people who just want adventure," the lieutenant governor said. "We want people who have a keen understanding of neighborhoods and how they fight crime and have a determination to solve problems."

Critics of the program, notably the International Association of Chiefs of Police, have argued that it demeans police officers who don't have college diplomas, will create a class system in the department and could deplete the force of experienced officers because the recruits are obligated to stay only four years. Of the 3,200 police officers in Baltimore, 491 have four-year college degrees.

Three recruits interviewed said they want policing as a career.

Treaster, 22, who grew up in Ledyard, Conn., population 13,000, grew leery of the medical profession and the way she said money and insurance companies determined a patient's care. After graduating last year from Hopkins and working in local emergency rooms, she decided that being a doctor wasn't for her.

She was interested in law enforcement and rode with police officers in four districts. "That got me hooked," she said. "It just seemed to be my thing."

Treaster's impression of officers is that "they are great for being public servants. I don't know that having cops with education will make better cops or worse cops. I have an understanding of different cultures and an acceptance of them. I don't think I'm so quick to jump to conclusions."

Jones, 24, graduated from Morgan State University last year and said he had always planned to become an officer. He is one of 12 children who grew up with a single mother at Harford Road and Darley Avenue; some of his family got into drugs and went to jail while others made it through school.

He remembers being harassed by officers when he walked out the front door and being frustrated that the local dealers pulling in $1,000 a week rarely got arrested. "I'm going to school, and the cops would approach me even though there were drug dealers on the corners," he said.

Jones said the lure of the street was enticing, but he stayed in school and rejected the "easy money." But his 18-year-old brother, Eric Julius Jones, wasn't so lucky. He was gunned down near his childhood home May 21 -- a slaying still unsolved and without a motive. Jones met with a police recruiter on the day of the funeral.

"I really do know how it is to grow up in that type of a community and wanting to feel safe," Jones said. "I don't want no one else's family to go through what my family went through. No one should lose a son, a father or a brother to such violence. This is what I want to prevent."

Being a police officer, he said, "is more than just apprehending criminals. It is more than directing traffic. You are a role model."

John Bilheimer, 22, who grew up in Brooklyn Park in northern Anne Arundel County and put himself through the University of Baltimore by driving a United Parcel Service van, said he also wanted to be a police officer all his life. He made up his mind when a relative got arrested for drugs.

The 22 year old also thinks his college background will help. "With as many problems as the Police Department is having now, with all the police officers getting in trouble, what they need is a good base."

Each recruit will go through a 16-week course led by Brosan, whose trainers will keep class going six days a week, most of the time from 6 a.m. to 9: 30 p.m. The students will have to train with city police an additional five weeks to learn local rules and laws, and defense techniques. Fifteen of the 40 recruits are overflow from Charleston and will return there.

Brosan, who in 1987 was fired as head of the state police by former Gov. William Donald Schaefer for refusing to promote the governor's bodyguard, has taken over Police Corps for $1 a year; he is on paid leave from heading security at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Last month during a visit to the academy operating out of the Masters, Mates and Pilot's union headquarters in Linthicum, Brosan barely had an office to speak of -- with four borrowed desks, six borrowed chairs and books piled on the floor next to TC fax machine that didn't have a telephone hookup. Brosan struggled without a secretary to answer calls. "I'm making a police academy out of nothing," he said.

Along with routine police training, Brosan wants to do something different. He plans to bring in noted speakers and columnists to lead discussions on race relations, urban policing and solving social problems -- called "Conversation with the Future Force."

Brosan is convinced that his recruits will find innovative ways to fight crime in Baltimore. When he joined the New York City Police Department in 1959, he was one of only two college graduates in a class of 300.

The Police Corps recruits, he said, "want to attack a problem. We are one of the most civil societies in the world, yet we have a serious crime problem. I can't believe that anyone can go through four years of college and not see that the orderliness of society is an issue today."

Pub Date: 8/25/97

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