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Task force calls for Arundel police to disband executive protection unit

The Anne Arundel County Police Department should disband the executive protection unit that became entangled in the scandal that landed former County Executive John R. Leopold in jail, a task force recommended Monday.

The county should create a unit with special officers who would report to the county executive, separate from the county force, the panel said. Such a move would ensure officers don't get entangled in the kinds of activities that led to Leopold's January conviction on charges of misconduct in office, while creating a professional protection service similar to the governor's.

That's the main recommendation of the task formed by County Executive Laura Neuman in May, led by former Baltimore police commissioner Frederick Bealefeld III and composed of law enforcement officers from other jurisdictions.

"We've been followed by drama for such a long time," said Neuman, who was appointed to take Leopold's place. "It was important we have a fresh start."

The volunteer panel, which studied the department, interviewed staff and set up a hot line for people to confidentially report policing issues, said it found no evidence of additional wrongdoing or corruption.

Still, it made several recommendations aimed at accountability and oversight, including granting more power to the county's Ethics Commission to review police issues and improving the internal affairs process so that investigations have specific time frames, sanctions and notification of the outcomes.

The task force noted in its report that there was no internal investigation into the activities of the executive protection unit under Leopold.

Leopold was convicted of two counts of misconduct in office, and his trial revealed that his protection officers were ordered to carry out personal and political tasks, such as picking up campaign checks, placing campaign signs and draining his catheter bag. He has appealed his convictions.

In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit alleging that police officers — at the behest of Leopold — used criminal justice databases to compile dossiers on Leopold's political rivals.

"At times during the previous County Executive's administration, police officers assigned to this detail were at odds with department policy and state law when they were requested by [Leopold] to perform certain tasks," the task force wrote in its report.

A separate executive protection service "removes the politicization of it," Bealefeld said. Task force members noted that special officers would not have access to police databases.

Some task force recommendations already are being carried out. For example, the new county police chief, Kevin Davis, said the internal affairs process is being improved so that both complainants and police officers are kept abreast of the outcome of their cases.

As for changing the executive protection detail, Neuman said she'd defer a decision to Davis, who was hired last month.

Davis said he's assessing the idea, but for now was "very comfortable with the executive protection unit being sworn Anne Arundel County police officers."

He said problems in the unit during the Leopold administration were not due to structural problems within the agency. "It had to do with people," he said.

Other recommendations by the task force include a series of changes in command structure, promotion reviews, pay scale and the way in which officers are drafted for overtime work.

During a news conference Monday at the Arundel Center in Annapolis, Bealefeld said the panel found the Anne Arundel County Police Department is largely made up of hardworking police officers.

"Those men and women out there wearing that uniform … they're working their tails off. And they're delivering quality police services to the people of this county," Bealefeld said.

Former Chief James Teare Sr. resigned in July 2012 amid the Leopold investigation. Teare was not charged.

His replacement, Larry W. Tolliver, was accused this year of using anti-gay slurs and changing assignments of officers who testified against Leopold, although a personnel review found no wrongdoing. Tolliver resigned in May.

In the aftermath of that turmoil, the task force said, it found an agency "starved for stable executive level leadership that can set focused direction and move the police department forward."

Neuman said she believes the hiring of Davis will help stabilize the agency.

Officer O'Brien Atkinson, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70, which represents rank-and-file officers, said he's confident Neuman and Davis will carry out many of the task force's recommendations.

"There's definitely an air of change with the new county executive and the new chief and the new collaborative attitude that they're both bringing to the table," Atkinson said. "It would be impossible not to feel optimistic."

Atkinson didn't see a need to change the executive protection detail — he said the unit is working well now — but praised recommendations for staffing, pay and overtime.

He also praised a recommendation that would allow the police chief to hire and fire his own top command staff, which he said would keep top commanders on the same page as the chief.

"It creates accountability and allegiance to command," he said.

County Councilman Jamie Benoit, who has been the most outspoken member of the County Council on police issues, said he's drafting a bill that would give the county's chief the ability to hire his own top staff.

Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat, said most of the task force recommendations sound positive, though he also questioned the necessity of moving the executive protection detail out of the department. He said he would be concerned that there might be a lack of oversight of the officers in that unit if they were only supervised by the executive's office.

Already, he said, the department is making a turnaround because of the change in leadership at the Arundel Center and at police headquarters.

"All of this stems from the actions of a couple of individuals. … The mere act of them going away, you can see a marked improvement in the Police Department," Benoit said.

Tolliver declined to comment on the task force's report. "I'm trying to move on," he said. Teare could not be reached for comment.

In addition to Bealefeld, who grew up in Anne Arundel County, task force members included Lt. James Humphries of the Montgomery County Police Department, and Assistant Chief Michael L. Anzallo, Inspector Ralph G. Ennis, Lt. James M. Brown and Lt. Jacob Major, all of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington.

pwood@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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