Even though he's barely been in charge of the Towson precinct for a week, Capt. Richard Howard is no stranger to operations there.
When Howard was working most recently in the community resources division at Baltimore County Police headquarters on Joppa Road, he frequently visited the Towson precinct for lunch with his friend, former Towson precinct commander, now-Maj. Al Jones.
Howard believes both his familiarity with the area gleaned from those chats with his longtime colleague and friend, plus his time spent working at headquarters in Towson, have set him up to succeed in his new role as commander of the Towson precinct.
"Out of the 10 precincts, this is a very important precinct because it is Towson," Howard said. "It's downtown, a central location. I'm very pleased to be here, and I know how important it is politically."
Howard, a father of four and an Air Force veteran who grew up in Baltimore, brings plenty of professional experience to the job.
He joined the county police department in 1989 after 10 years of active duty in the Air Force as an air traffic controller and rose through the ranks with stints in charge of the Woodlawn precinct, the employment division and community outreach division, which included the Safe Schools program.
His first days at the Towson precinct — his assignment began Tuesday, May 14 — were largely uneventful. He was briefed by lieutenants and took some time to meet the new officers, but he said valuable advice also came from Jones.
Commander of the Towson precinct from 2007 until 2011 before being promoted to major and assigned as head of area patrol, Jones said he has "no doubt" Howard will be successful in Towson.
"The more important thing is Towson loves their commanders to be involved," Jones said. "Whether they're dealing with the student issues or … development and issues of central Towson, they expect their commanders to be involved and also able to communicate effectively and be open with them. I think once he understands that and makes that leap, he'll be very successful in Towson."
At the Greater Towson Council of Community Association meeting on Thursday, Howard was formally introduced to a passionate constituency.
Jones was on hand to introduce Howard but caught flak from community leaders who questioned the department's decision to transfer Howard's predecessor, Capt. Jonathan Trentzsch, to Woodlawn.
Trentzsch was reassigned earlier this month. Police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said Chief Jim Johnson "has the prerogative to reassign his command staff," and no specific factor went into Trentzsch's reassignment.
Community leaders, however, grilled Jones and suggested that a combination of the 2012 crime stats — which showed Towson's crime rate spiked against five-year averages while every other precinct dropped — and Trentzsch's openness about the need for more resources in Towson led to his transfer.
West Towson resident Mike Ertel said the changes were handled "very poorly" by the command staff, and Ed Kilcullen, of Towson Manor Village, lamented that every time a new commander comes in, the process of getting him up to speed must start over.
Jones said at the meeting that Trentzsch's reassignment to Woodlawn, where he has previously commanded and is familiar with the officers, was a better fit for both Trentzsch and the department.
Howard said he wasn't fazed by the tension at the meeting.
"The way I look at it is, I'm new and, naturally, people are going to miss their old captain," Howard said. "Just give me an opportunity to do my job, meet with each one of them, and hopefully things go smoothly."