JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- I recently watched 14 men and two women here, perspiring through their uniforms because they wore bulletproof vests, disarm each other one-on-one. It actually can be done without guns or billy clubs. They do it over and over again, nearly every day for 22 weeks, as cadets in the Police Corps -- a small federal program that works.
These young people receive $30,000 from the government to repay their college education and are hired by a local police department prior to their Police Corps training. In return, they must serve four years on local street patrol, with no desk job permitted. I was impressed with the caliber of cadets two years ago when I met the first graduating class of the Mississippi Police Corps, and was even more impressed when I spent some three days watching training of the Florida and Missouri Police Corps.
This is the realized dream of Adam Walinsky, a former New York Democratic politician and Robert F. Kennedy aide. In 1982, he conceived the idea of training police to emphasize character and combat the abuses by American cops. It has become Walinsky's life work, taking 12 years to get congressional approval. Even today, funding does not come nearly as easily as money for lawmakers to dispense pork back home.
All cadets I questioned called the training, both physical and academic, the most rigorous they had experienced. They regard the academics, with studies ranging from Aristotle to Charles Murray, as tougher than anything encountered in college. Just about every cadet thought about quitting during the first days of training (and, indeed, a few drop out of every class).
Hand-to-hand combat training, developed for the Police Corps by former U.S. Navy Seals trainer Lewis Hicks, is part of Walinsky's original determination to modify treatment of suspects resisting arrest. Unique in police academies, these cadets are trained how to speak politely to all citizens and how to avoid the use of the gun or the baton.
I experienced the end product of such training when I cruised the mean streets of Jacksonville's inner city for several hours with 24-year-old rookie police officer Bobby Nauss, a Jacksonville Police Corps graduate. He was ordered to arrest a young man who had just sold crack cocaine to an undercover detective. Nauss found the suspect, a rough-looking fellow surrounded by buddies on a front porch in a rough-looking neighborhood.
Nauss calmly strolled up to the porch and inquired whether anybody had heard gunshots. He then asked the suspect to talk privately for a moment. When they reached the patrol car, Nauss asked the suspect to turn around, slipped handcuffs on him and guided him into the car's locked back seat. He never raised his voice and treated his suspect with courtesy, addressing him as "Mr. Smith." That was not the method of operation when I broke in covering police in 1948.
Bobby Nauss' superior officers say they love Police Corps graduates like him, calling them much better trained than other rookies. Sheriff Nat Glover (who heads Jacksonville's city-county police) told me he welcomes the cadets "but there are chiefs who suspect (it will become) an elite corps." Indeed, despite the federal payment of $40,000 for each cadet hired, resistance is intense.
While the Police Corps has spread to 31 states after seven years, no cadets are requested by troubled police forces that need them most: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami. California and New York state governments say no to the Police Corps. Illinois is just getting started, but Chicago does not participate. With 641 Police Corps graduates to be included among the nation's 250,000 street cops by year's end, the injection of quality is slow -- and always threatened at its funding base.
Walinsky originally wanted $100 million a year for the Police Corps, but settled for $30 million. With the Bush administration squeezing the budget, the spending was cut to $14.5 million in the House with final action pending. When I mentioned this to two very senior Bush officials, neither had ever heard of the Police Corps. They did express curiosity in a government program that works, and I hope they look into it.