Anne Arundel County could have a new chief for its troubled Police Department within weeks, as County Executive Laura Neuman said she has narrowed the search to two Marylanders.
Neuman declined to identify the top candidates but said this week that she might name a new chief within a month.
"It is my intention to hire from outside because we've had some systemic issues within the department," she said.
The new chief will be the third in about a year for the 670-officer department after the resignations of James Teare Sr. last summer and Larry W. Tolliver in May.
The new hire will be the first permanent police chief named by Neuman since her appointment in February to complete the term of John R. Leopold, who resigned after criminal convictions that including directing his police protection detail to perform personal and political errands.
Neuman said she's looking for "integrity, references, recommendations and a style of being part of the culture that we are trying to create in the county — that we are very results-oriented."
She said she wants someone who communicates well and can provide an "objective assessment" of the department to determine what has worked and what hasn't.
Neuman recently formed a task force composed of law enforcement officials from Montgomery County and the District of Columbia and chaired by Frederick H. Bealefeld III, Baltimore's former police commissioner, to examine Anne Arundel's department. She also set up a tip line so residents can report information about "possible unethical or inappropriate behavior" by members of the department.
Neuman has formed a campaign committee and begun fundraising but has not announced whether she will seek a four-year term in 2014. She could be out of office by the end of next year but said candidates have not expressed fear that they might be jobless after the election. Other high-level positions she's looking to fill include fire chief, public works director and head of inspections and permits.
The new police chief will face the challenge of redirecting an agency plagued by morale problems, internal sniping, equipment needs and more. O'Brien Atkinson, president of the union that represents rank-and-file officers, described the department's culture as "similar to that of the game show 'Survivor.'"
Despite task force scrutiny — and the question of whether Neuman will be in office after 2014 — the post of police chief is still attractive. More than 35 people applied for the job, which carries a salary that could reach nearly $162,700, according to personnel officer Andrea Fulton.
"I really don't think they will have trouble finding someone," said L. Douglas Ward, director of the Division of Public Safety Leadership in the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. Despite internal turmoil, Ward said, the Anne Arundel force remains a good department.
"What they need is somebody who can set the tone, set the policy, deliver a consistent message and have a good policy review, and say, 'We are going to do the right thing, no matter what.' That makes a big difference," Ward said.
Ward said Neuman was right to look outside the department because "you are not beholden to anyone in the organization."
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which assisted Baltimore in finding Anthony W. Batts to replace Bealefeld last year, said Anne Arundel needs a chief with a vision for the agency, and that the new leader needs assurances of political support "to make the changes that are necessary."
"They need someone who is going to be there for a while and has long-term interest in Anne Arundel County, and can have the credibility of the officers and the citizens," Wexler said.
The Police Department has had a tumultuous few years, starting with the criminal probe of Leopold after he won re-election as county executive in 2010. In January, he was convicted of two counts of misconduct in office for directing his protection officers to plant campaign signs, collect campaign checks and compile dossiers on political adversaries, and for having the officers and his scheduler do personal tasks that included draining a urinary catheter bag he used after back surgery. The convictions are on appeal.
Officers appeared before a grand jury and testified at Leopold's trial. According to the indictment against Leopold, Teare did not intervene after officers complained about the county executive. The indictment also alleged that officers wrongly accessed law enforcement databases to seek information about Leopold's opponents.
Teare retired last summer before Leopold's trial, ending a state investigation into his role in the misconduct case involving his boss. Teare was not charged with any offense.
Leopold named Tolliver, a former state police superintendent, to take the helm of the department beginning in August. Tolliver quit in May, saying he was tired of having his leadership questioned. Neuman said an investigation into allegations that he had used anti-gay slurs indicated he acknowledged making offensive remarks.
An acting chief has been in place for a month.
Neuman said that if neither of her top contenders for chief is the "perfect candidate," she'll keep looking.
"I've never found it difficult to find incredibly smart and talented people," she said.
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