May 9, 2011
Baltimore County Council chairman John Olszewski Sr., said he’s comfortable with plans to remove recreation centers from police supervision starting next month.
Officers will remain connected to the centers and serve as mentors for youth, Olszewski said.
“It’s not like they’re bailing out 100 percent,” he said. “One of the major concerns for everybody is public safety. Our police department is doing an outstanding job, but at the same time I think they also believe it is important for them to continue to be role models.”
Michael Gimbel, the county’s former director of substance abuse, said he recalled discussions about moving the centers over to the parks and recreation department occurring almost annually. While a move was attempted during former county executive Dennis Rasmussen’s administration, officials decided that putting police in charge improved public perceptions and had a greater impact on children, he said.
With county crime rates improving, it’s important to consider the role of PAL centers along with school resource officers and programs like D.A.R.E., Gimbel said.
“The real reduction in crimes comes from prevention as much as it comes from police work,” Gimbel said. “Having police officers in the schools, in the PAL centers has an impact on the reduction of juvenile crime. It all makes a difference but we all understand the dilemma the chief is in, the county executive is in.”
For the move to be effective, recreation and parks workers will need more intense training in counseling, drug and alcohol prevention and other interventions, he said.
“Really, the PAL officers were more than just police officers playing baseball with the kids,” Gimbel said. “They did a lot more.”