Perhaps the most surprising thing heard in a generation is that the Prince George's County police and their union are concerned about their image. Unfortunately, they did not ask themselves the right questions and consequently did not get the right answers. One of their first questions should be: Why is it that P.G. County's is the only police department in the nation that is known to employ a public relations firm to enhance its image.

Police departments gain reputations when their officers contact the public. Preparation for this public contact includes excellent recruitment and training programs, as is apparently not the case in P.G. County. Some -- far too many -- P.G. County officers hold certain segments of the general public in absolute contempt.

In Landover, for example, where the population is mostly poor and black, kids in their early and middle teens have negligible facilities and organizations in which to channel their energies and interests. Yet when the P.G. County police find them congregating on the street corners (the only logical place for them to meet and socialize), the police often arbitrarily line them up in groups of 20 to 30 and search them for drugs. (This is the kind of indignity that one carries to his grave and is not suffered by the wealthy and the middle class.)

The fact that someone recognizes that something is dreadfully wrong is good news -- that they believe the needed correction is a public relations firm is bad news indeed. Why not earn a good reputation? Why not do it "the old-fashioned way"?