Balto. County abandons Corps; Police say state training program failed to benefit force


Baltimore County is pulling out of a highly regarded statewide police training program, saying it is too costly -- even though the officer training is financed mainly with federal money.

Since the county joined the Maryland Police Corps in 1997, only two recruits have come from the program to the local police department. This year, county police officials hoped to hire 10 recruits from the Corps' June graduating class, but could find only one candidate who met county standards.

"They had trouble with recruiting. The weeding-out process is pretty dramatic. A 5 percent [acceptance rate] is pretty typical," said Michael Sarbanes, executive director for the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention. "But we are hopeful they will participate in the future."

The program, based in northern Anne Arundel County, is designed to help local police departments recruit college-educated candidates from across the nation. Recruits receive a $250 weekly stipend and other benefits, and training differs from most locally run academies, emphasizing hands-on learning and community policing skills.

Since it began in 1994, the Police Corps has trained 108 students from 62 colleges, sending them to police and sheriff's departments across Maryland. In the class that graduates June 30, the Police Corps is training seven officers for Howard County; two for Prince George's County, four for Baltimore and three for Hagerstown.

"We just feel it is an opportunity for our officers and the applicants. It's more hands-on," said Maj. Tom Trodden, commander of Prince George's County's police training and personnel services.

Baltimore County police officials have toured the facility a number of times, and spoke highly of the program, but said they have not received enough qualified candidates to justify the costs involved.

The Police Corps recruits candidates, and forwards names to local police departments. The departments select trainees they want to participate in the six-month Police Corps program, agreeing to hire them after graduation.

This year, Baltimore County police said they received 13 names from the Police Corps, but that only one recruit met county standards, and county police officials decided to send him to their own police academy.

"It is not an issue for us about the quality of the recruit," said Col. M. Kim Ward, commander of the Baltimore County services bureau. In the county's own recruiting process, she said, "we test close to 1,000 people to get 50 students."

Although the recruits' stipend and most other Police Corps expenses are financed by grants from the federal government, local departments face some costs.

Baltimore County police officials estimate they spent about $104,000 to train the two officers recruited through the program. That figure includes the cost of assigning a major and lieutenant to the Police Corps full-time, and an additional five weeks of training recruits about county procedures, said county police spokesman Bill Toohey.

"I think for us it was a big commitment," Ward said.

Others defended the program, which is staffed by representatives from participating police departments and academia.

"I'm disappointed. I am a believer in the program," said Maj. Michael Stelmack, who represented Baltimore County in the Police Corps. "I think there are some programs we do here that we don't do in the county," such as ethics seminars and bringing in guest speakers.

"I think the product speaks for itself," said retired state police Capt. Scott Whitney, who directs the Police Corps. Even if Baltimore County dropped out of the program, withdrawing its major and lieutenant as instructors, it would still have to pay their salaries, he said.

County officials have not ruled out participating in the program in the future, and plan to bring some Police Corps techniques to the county.

The county lieutenant who participated in the Police Corps has already returned to the department. Stelmack will return to police headquarters in June, Toohey said.

"If the Police Corps can recruit more potential officers for the Baltimore County Police Department, we would certainly evaluate the issues that we do not believe are met by Police Corps," county police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan wrote in a letter to the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

And while the program was introduced by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who could battle Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger for the Democratic nomination in the coming governor's race, county police said politics played no role in the decision.

"If others want to read politics into it, that's unfortunate," Ward said. "I look at what is in the best interest of the police department."

Townsend's office declined to comment.

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