The Prince George's County Police Department, expecting more than 100 vacancies in its ranks this year, is sending recruiters into the corridors and locker rooms of D.C. and Baltimore police stations in an attempt to lure officers to new jobs in the county.
The recruiting effort, part of a major drive aimed particularly at enlisting minority officers, is necessary because of a one-time "early-out" retirement program this year that has more than tripled the department's normal attrition rate. The campaign also includes TV and radio spots, visits to schools and the more conventional distribution of brochures and posters.
"We've got to get out and sell the department, rather than just merely tack posters on bulletin boards," said Lt. Col. Theodore R. Carr. He said the county hired five Baltimore City police officers after recruiters visited stations there last month.
Similar recruiting methods in Alexandria five years ago drew bitter complaints from officials there, who charged that efforts to "steal" black officers from that force were unethical.
But District and Baltimore police officials had no complaints about the county's recruiting because, they said, they expect to lose few officers to Prince George's. Assistant Chief Carl V. Profater said the District had no shortage of minority officers or applicants, and that the county had informed D.C. police administrators of its intentions.
"We haven't encouraged it," said Profater, but he added, "We have no objections to it."
Baltimore police spokesman Dennis Hill said his department was not aware that recruiters were visiting Baltimore stations, but said he was not disturbed by the news.
Starting pay in the District, at $19,800, is slightly more than the $18,400 starting salary in Prince George's. Baltimore officers start at about $17,000.
Because veteran officers retiring from Prince George's are leaving gradually over the course of the year, the vacancies pose no threat to public safety, Carr said. While there may be 30 to 40 vacancies at any one time, each of the county's six districts will be short only one or two officers per shift, he said.
The department usually loses about 30 officers a year, replacing them with one class of recruits. This year, however, four and possibly five new classes will be trained, Carr said.
The early-out option, which allows officers to retire after 17 years with the same benefits they would normally receive at 20 years, was mutually sought by the department and the police union, according to Tom Lennon, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
It was designed to open up new slots for hiring and promotion, especially for minority officers, Carr said. And it comes after years of racial tension and charges that the department has lagged behind in the hiring and promotion of minority officers.
"We've had to make a concerted effort to recruit minorities and it has paid off," Carr said, "maybe not to the extent we anticipated, but it's just meant we had to make our efforts sustained, and extend the drive." He said he expects the stepped-up recruiting to last seven months.
The county agreed 10 years ago, at the direction of the U.S. Justice Department, to increase the number of minorities by guaranteeing that half of each new class would be minority recruits. Those efforts have raised the number of black officers from 33 out of 794 officers in 1975 to 170 of the present force of about 900 officers. The number of women officers has increased from 12 in 1976 to 58 this year.
"I am satisfied that the county executive and the chief of police are serious about recruiting minorities and females," said Carr, a former assistant chief of the D.C. police department who joined the county force in February.
The president of the Black Police Officers Association of Prince George's County said the department's efforts to hire minority officers are adequate, but there is still not enough opportunity for black officers to be promoted.
"There's no long-range plan," said officer Reginald Riley, whose group was formed two years ago. While the early retirement has made it possible for a few black officers to be promoted, he said, "this is a one-time thing . . . . I don't see how it will help promotions further down the line."
In an attempt to put new officers on the street faster than is normally possible, the county has for the first time targeted its recruiting drive to attract experienced officers.
A class of inexperienced recruits is currently undergoing the usual 22-week training. But a training class scheduled to begin this week will be made up of officers with experience in Maryland who will have to go through only four weeks of training.
The county is recruiting a third class of officers with experience outside Maryland for a 10-week training session to begin in November. A fourth, and possibly fifth, class also will be scheduled later this year, Carr said.