Being on time to the last class of Baltimore County's 30th Citizens Police Academy was a bit more imperative than normal. The chief of police was our speaker.
Chief James Johnson touted what most of us had come to know—that the county's police department is one of the best in the nation. It's the 20th largest department in America, it's a leader in handgun control and traffic safety, and for those reasons and more, it has garnered $60 million in federal grants over the last six years, he said.
He also offered some advice on interpreting the trends in our communities.
"If you look at it from year to year, it's up, down, up, down, up, down," he said. "If you really want to study, academically, the crime in your community, look at the last three years."
Robberies are down 17 percent, auto thefts are down 28 percent and all violent crimes are down 15 percent based on the last three years in Baltimore County, he said.
It sounds good and it is good. But the truth is that times are changing, he said. More than 60 officers patrol the halls of county schools. Crimes like cyber theft and online child pornography rings have led to an emerging trend that will dominate police work in the future.
"I believe you'll see a leveling off of crime," he said, but we won't keep seeing double-digit decreases like the county has over the last 10 years.
Johnson's talk served as a reminder that Citizens Academy really does provide an unparalleled channel of communication between citizens and officers. I can honestly say I learned things I'm not sure an officer would have jumped to share with me as a reporter. I don't mean that in a bad way—I just think it's true. And I've gained valuable insight as to why that is.
My version of success is getting the most information first, but for police, certain facts made public could ruin an investigation. A ruined investigation could mean the difference between a jailed murderer or one on the loose.
Fittingly, Capt. Andre Davis took the floor after Johnson to reiterate the role of citizen leadership.
"You wouldn't be in this class if you weren't a leader already," he said.
Davis, commander of the department's employment unit, used to lead the youth and community resources bureau. His experience with people taught him that citizen leaders don't need money to be successful. They need passion.
"There are only a few people willing to stand up and be leaders in the community," he said.
Sometimes it's a thankless job, but someone has to do it. Sometimes the payoff is huge. A concerned citizen amid thousands is all it took for police to address the smoking SUV at the failed Times Square bombing last year, he said. (See videos).
I have to say that completing this 15-week program comes with a sense of accomplishment.
Of the 66 that started the program, 51 will graduate, according to Det. Teresa Moudry, who diligently patrolled the sign-in sheet for those who were absent more than three times during the course. I likened the commitment of attending each of the weekly three-hour classes to the schedule I kept in college (sans the fact the cops weren't going to kick me out if I missed a few).
This editor will be the "valedictorian" at next week's commencement. Stay tuned for one last entry in this year's Citizens Police Academy Binder.