Blue knights of labor; Appreciating police: Nostalgia for foot patrols shows officers are glue that keeps neighborhoods together.


THIS Labor Day, between your charred hot dogs and cold cups of beer, take a minute to pay tribute to the men and women who respond to 911 and 311 calls, train and take care of K-9 dogs, fly police helicopters over crime scenes, dust for fingerprints, mediate domestic disputes. Police officers are the glue that hold neighborhoods together.

Just listen to Baltimore's mayoral candidates.

They can't heap enough praise on the beat officers of the past, who evoke memories of simpler and more orderly times. In the ideal city of those politicians' promises, foot patrol officers would return, spreading their security blanket of trust and solace all over the city.

But there's one point that is never brought up in all that nostalgia: A major reason beat officers were an integral part of neighborhoods was because they lived in the city. A typical Baltimore City officer today, however, is more likely to live in Harford or Carroll counties than in Charm City.

Does that make a difference?

You bet it does.

These are the men and women whose presence and activism the city will need if it is to truly reverse its fortunes. That's why the next mayor must persuade more police officers, fire fighters and teachers to move back to the city. They are needed here if community policing, community schools or any of the other "community" buzzwords are to have any meaning.

When the first Labor Day was celebrated in New York on Sept. 5, 1882, the date was chosen simply because it would help fill the long gap between Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. Later, the first Monday of September was fixed as the permanent holiday date.

Over the years, Labor Day has come to mark the end of many summer-time activities. But its link to dutiful work continues.

It's no accident that today marks the beginning of Officer Appreciation Week in the city. What better time to honor the Baltimore police, as well as the men and women serving in all our law enforcement agencies.

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