Retiring police officers say department is in good hands

June 23, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

Despite all the changes in his 30 years as a Hagerstown City Police officer, Lt. Jack Hall says he is confident that he is leaving law enforcement in good hands.

"There are a lot of kids in this job now but they are better trained than we were when we started," said Hall, whose last day on the job was June 20. "They are great police officers - I feel safe when I go to sleep at night."

Hall soon will be joined in retirement by Lt. Gary Spielman, who is leaving June 27 after being with the department for 26 years.


"I was on the streets for six months ... with a gun ... before my formal training began," Spielman said. He entered the first class of the Western Maryland Police Academy, then held at the old armory on North Potomac Street.

Both Hall, 55, and Spielman, 48, said the whole image of police was markedly different in those early days.

"We weren't problem-solvers then. You went on a call, you fixed it and you left," Hall said. "I'd tell people that if I had to come back, somebody was going to jail."

If that warning didn't do it, Hall said he'd back up his promise and take someone to jail.

"In all my 30 years, I never fired my gun - although I came close a couple of times," Hall said.

Wanting to do something different with his life, Hall enrolled in the then-Hagerstown Junior College criminal justice curriculum with some friends. He worked in a factory before joining the military and knew he didn't want to spend his life doing that.

Hall received his specialized training in 1973 at the Maryland Police Training Commission, which was a seven- to eight-week program run out of the Army Reserve Center on Willard Street.

"There were no internal instructors. Instead, there were people from the Maryland State Police and the FBI who taught," Hall said. Training was offered in guns, CPR, and general traffic and criminal law.

A major difference in policing in the 1970s was the lack of agencies to which police officers could make referrals, Spielman said.

"The murder of Jean Knode in 1997 changed things," Spielman said, referring to a highly publicized domestic violence case. "CASA sprang up from that."

CASA (Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused), an agency dedicated to protecting and sheltering battered spouses, now is closely aligned with the police, who often come across domestic violence in the course of their daily tours of duty.

Hall is the new president of the CASA board of directors and plans to devote more of his time to the agency now that he is retiring.

Both Hall and Spielman agreed that the level of violence in Hagerstown when they joined the police department was very low. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

"I can remember when there would be a call for someone with a gun and we'd be talking about it for six months," Hall said. "Now it is happening a lot."

Back in 1976, Hall worked narcotics enforcement, long before there was a Washington County Narcotics Task Force. "There was just a little bit of drugs here then and that was mostly misdemeanor, i.e., smoking marijuana," he said.

The incidence of drugs and the level of violence began to escalate together during the 1980s when another phenomenon began to surface - people from other states like Florida and New York moving into the area and bringing more and new kinds of drugs.

Education is another big change within the ranks of the Hagerstown City Police. Both Hall and Spielman have bachelor's and master's degrees for which they were reimbursed by the City of Hagerstown.

Two other officers are working on their doctorates, Hall said.

Ending his career with a two-year stint in planning and research, Spielman said he sees the availability of grant money as a big plus in modern policing.

"I would say my biggest achievement came when I was in the detective bureau and I requested and got a $5,000 grant for DNA testing on a double-murder case," Spielman said.

Those test results led to a conviction, he said.

Spielman, who is on the faculty at Hagerstown Community College, said he has a couple of irons in the fire for the future.

Hall sees some consulting work or a business opportunity in the years to come.

Despite all that he has seen over the years, Hall said he still has faith in those he serves.

"People have been the best part of this job," Hall said.

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