According to the FBI, a crime is committed every two seconds in the U.S. In the past five years, the number of violent crimes has increased by more than 20%. Nearly one-third of all households were victimized by violence or theft in 1982. Yet while the crime situation has worsened, budgetary pressures have caused most large cities to reduce the numbers of their police officers.
Enter the Police Corps. The brain child of Adam Walinsky, a onetime aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the program seeks to combine the strengths of two discordant ideas of the 1960s: the youthful idealism of the Peace Corps and the practical educational program of the Reserve Officers Training Corps. Under the plan, students would have their college educations financed by local police departments on the condition that they serve three years on the force after graduation. Their salary and fringe benefits would be about half those of regular starting officers.
The first full-fledged test of the idea will probably be in San Jose, Calif. In a proposal by Mayor Tom McEnery, high school graduates who pass the state’s regular police admissions examination will be eligible for four-year college scholarships of $7,000 a year. The participants will be allowed to choose any course of study, but would spend then summer vacations preparing for police work by attending required training programs. After graduation, they would join the police department with the same law-enforcement authority as regular officers. Police Corps graduates will earn about $25,000 in total wages and benefits, compared with $40,000 in annual compensation (about $27,000 of salary and $13,000 of benefits) for a regular first-year officer. Total costs to the city for the college education and three-year service term for each Police Corps officer would amount to $110,000.
A comparable entry-level police officer after three years on the force would cost the city $155,000 in salary and benefits.
One official estimates that half of the officers might choose to remain on the force permanently. McEnery projects that the Police Corps will save San Jose between $7 million and $16 million over the next ten years while adding officers to the force.
Variations of the Police Corps program have been suggested in other areas. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, R.F.K.’s eldest daughter, has just completed a proposal for the state’s anticrime council, for which she has been a policy analyst. In Sacramento, Assemblyman Tom Hayden, once a leader of the radical left, is putting together a Police Corps bill to present to the legislative council. The program, he says, will bring “a missionary spirit to the U.S.”
Last September, the National Institute of Justice provided a $300,000 grant to set up a panel of experts that would study the feasibility of having a Police Corps in seven states, including California and New York. Says NIJ Director James Stewart: “We want to take a hard look at a concept that appears to be very interesting.”
The San Jose proposal, however, has met with some opposition, particularly from union leaders. Carm J. Grande, president of the San Jose police officers’ association, questions whether the program will save money and argues that Police Corps members might not enter the profession with the necessary devotion. Contending that police work depends on initiative and motivation, Grande asks, “Are those qualities going to be bypassed because of the attractiveness of getting a free four-year college education?”
San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara, who hatched the plan with Mayor McEnery, believes the objections can be overcome. Says he: “I do not think that the primary motivation of these people will be simply getting money for their education. I think this program is really going to catch their— imagination and encourage them to become public servants.” Adds McEnery: “San Jose and the Silicon Valley have always been good at harnessing energy and idealism. That is what the Police Corps program is all about. It is to harness the energy and idealism that still exist in young people.”