Having recently reached their goal to have one Police Athletic League center for each precinct commander, Baltimore County officials are preparing to reorganize the once-struggling program.
Under a proposal before the County Council, the county plans to put the PAL program under the full control of the Police Department in July and assign additional officers to each center.
The police and the Department of Recreation and Parks operate the program, which offers after-school activities for children, with police officers as mentors.
"We were going in two different directions on some issues," said Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan. "We thought it would be best if we came under one direction."
The changes, which need council approval, would ensure a more structured program, said Bill Toohey, a police spokesman.
The PAL program, one of more than 3,000 such programs nationwide, has been a central part of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's effort to revitalize aging suburbs.
The county had four PAL centers when Ruppersberger was elected in 1994. He pledged to open one center for every precinct commander - and achieved his goal May 8 when the Scotts Branch PAL center opened in the Garrison precinct. (The county has nine police precincts, but the White Marsh and Parkville precincts are operated by the same captain.)
The program hit another milestone yesterday when a second PAL center, which cost $1.2 million, opened in the Woodlawn precinct, next to Winfield Elementary School at 8304 Carlson Lane. Woodlawn is the first precinct to have more than one PAL center.
The county now has nine PAL centers, eight of them built or replaced during the Ruppersberger years and paid for with county and state funds.
"PAL centers are the most important things we can do for our children right now," Ruppersberger said at the opening of the Winfield center. "We need to start reaching the children."
More than 5,000 youths are registered to attend county PAL centers, which are run by police officers and counselors who organize recreational and educational activities. But a need to further strengthen PAL is one reason the county wants to shift full control of the program to the police department.
The department plans to integrate PAL with other police programs, such its Juvenile Offenders In Need of Supervision, and add activities.
Under the proposed changes, 10 PAL center coordinator positions will be transferred to the Police Department from Recreation and Parks.
The Police Department plans to add one corporal and a dozen officers to its ranks - at a cost of $444,201 - to increase the number of officers assigned to each center.
Maj. Michael Stelmach, commander of the police Community Resources Division, said some changes will be noticed immediately, such as the addition of county school teachers to tutor PAL children this summer.
The PAL program, founded by a county detective in Fullerton in 1972, was dying slowly from recessionary cuts in the police budget by the time Ruppersberger was elected. County officials believe the expansion of PAL in recent years might be one reason juvenile arrests have been declining.
The county had 8,773 juvenile arrests in 1997 - about 24 percent of all arrests - compared with 7,968 in 1999.
In the first six months of last year - the last period for which statistics are available - juvenile arrests were down 12 percent from a comparable period of 1999.