Major changes for the good in policies and attitudes have occurred in the Prince George's County Police Department in recent years.
These changes came about after the department in the early and mid-1970s was swamped with complaints of alleged police brutality. Those complaints resulted in the county council's naming a special task force in 1975 to study the situation and make recommendations for changes. On the committee were citizens, representatives of the news media, the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as well as council members.
In making a series of recommendations, most of which have since been put into effect, the task force emphasized the need for better-educated police officers. It was determined that because of the complexities of police duties and the need to work with people, candidates for police training needed a more extensive educational background. Candidates still are required to hold only a high school diploma, but once on the force they are encouraged to further their education, and many officers today hold college degrees.
As a result of this emphasis on education, the general attitude of police officers has been to become more aware of citizens' problems and less concerned with arrest quotas, by which in the past an officer was credited for the number of arrests made or the number of tickets issued.
The average policeman today sees himself more as a public servant working for the people than an adversary of the public. This new approach has resulted in the exodus of many older policemen, some of whom held unwanted racial attitudes in a county that is experiencing a rapid population growth in blacks.
With the influx of more blacks and the emphasis on better-educated policemen, the department began promoting black officers to positions of higher authority; and today there is a black serving as deputy police chief. At the same time, recruitment efforts were directed at hiring more black officers. This in turn has resulted in a reduction in complaints of police brutality.
As for more effective service to the public, it has been determined that the department today is quicker to respond to complaints than any other jurisdiction in the metropolitan area.
Police use of handguns also has been limited, through changes in regulations. For example, today a police officer may not shoot from a moving vehicle and is automatically placed on administrative leave after any shooting of someone until a thorough investigation is conducted.
To increase the visibility of police officers in the county, the department has a program that allows officers to hold part-time employment, such as jobs as guards in stores. The county also allows police officers to use their police cars when off duty, to put more marked police cars on the streets.
Another procedure adopted by the department is to assign an officer to a community on a regular basis, so he becomes familiar with people on his beat and the particular problems of that community.
Because of the stresses associated with police work, the department has instituted a program in which two psychologists work with individual police officers experiencing problems related to their jobs, or personal problems. This special service was established after it was recognized that policemen have a high rate of suicide and divorce. Drinking also is a serious problem on police forces today.
But the future of the Prince George's department appears promising. If the current high standards for recruitment and training continue, it will result in more blacks being hired and promoted within the department. This, in turn, should result in better police-community relations.
Increased respect in the community for the police department and individual officers will result in greater cooperation by citizens in the war against the common enemy--the criminal.