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Challengers attack Anderson's record in city sheriff's race

According to his challengers in the Democratic primary, John W. Anderson is woefully unqualified to continue as Baltimore's sheriff. He's mismanaged his agency, they say, allowed thousands of warrants to go unserved and kept an intentionally low profile because he has nothing to show for his 25 years in office.

Anderson dismisses the charges as mere politics.

"There's no mismanagement here," he says. "We're running a good, sound agency."

Wherever the truth lies, the race for Baltimore's sheriff is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in years. The sheriff, who oversees about 220 people and manages a $17 million budget, is in charge of serving court documents and warrants, transporting prisoners and providing courthouse security. Challengers say he should be doing much more.

Donoven Brooks, a school police officer, accuses Anderson of going "missing." He says Baltimoreans have no idea who Anderson is or what he's been doing.

"If you haven't seen or heard from the current sheriff," he recently told a packed meeting of the Berea/Eastside Community Association, "I ask that he not see or hear from you on Election Day."

Brooks says he'd cut down on the city's backlog of more than 25,000 unserved warrants, and redirect $150,000 the sheriff uses to pay assistants who sometimes act as personal drivers to fund summer internships.

He notes that more than half of Anderson's campaign contributions come from his employees and accuses Anderson of pressuring his staff to donate.

"Under my leadership, people will not work in fear," Brooks says. "Sixty percent of my donations won't come from my lowly paid employees."

Another challenger, Richard Parker, who had served as an aide to former Del. Hattie Harrison, is calling for an audit of the sheriff's office and says sheriff's deputies should do more to help police patrol the streets of Baltimore.

"Currently, the sheriff's office is not as effective as it could be," says Parker, an Army veteran and community activist. "That's due to a lack of vision and a lack of leadership. There's allegations of mismanagement, nepotism and cronyism. After an audit is conducted, there would be funds freed up."

Parker, whose campaign reports $36,000 on hand, to Anderson's $60,000, says he's the candidate most capable of taking down the incumbent. Brooks reported less than $10,000 on hand.

"We know there's enough dissatisfaction with that office to unseat the current sheriff," Parker says. "I have the funds to do it."

Anderson says he's running on his record, which he says is strong.

He's taken over serving domestic violence court orders from the Police Department and placed an emphasis on rounding up the city's most violent offenders with open warrants. He's also dispatched sheriff's deputies to some of the city's most dangerous areas to assist the city police.

"One or two people can terrorize a community," Anderson says. "When you take them out, the calls for service decrease."

When snow or other circumstances cause the city's courts to close, Anderson says, he sometimes orders all his deputies to patrol.

"We have 70 deputy sheriffs that can hit the streets," he says.

During a six-month period in 2013, he says, a task force of sheriff's deputies and police officers made 596 arrests, cleared 773 warrants, and seized 44 firearms.

"I'm running on my record. I have 25 years of experience," he says.

Anderson says no one in his office has ever been pressured to contribute to his campaign. He says he sends out a letter telling employees they are under no obligation to support his re-election. He acknowledges that he sometimes uses top aides as drivers but says they have other responsibilities as well.

He notes endorsements from the local unions of sheriff's deputies and police as evidence that he treats employees fairly.

He says he's paying Brooks and Parker little attention.

"I don't really know them," he says. "Each election cycle people go down and file for office."

As much as the two challengers have taken aim at Anderson, they've also focused on each other.

Parker has built his campaign around plans to increase patrols by sheriff's deputies.

Brooks calls that a "pipe dream." He notes there are fewer than 200 sheriff's deputies, who must already watch over the courts, transport prisoners and serve warrants, compared with 3,000 police officers in Baltimore.

"I won't give an unrealistic projection of adding manpower to the police force," he says.

Brooks, a patrol supervisor with the city school police and a former chief of the Fairmount Heights Police Department in Prince George's County, says Parker lacks law enforcement experience.

Parker, the founder of an anti-violence campaign in Pigtown, says his military experience makes him the best choice.

"I served in the military for 17 years," he says. "I don't know there's any higher form of law enforcement."

The candidates have also sparred in court.

Brooks accused Parker in April of taking his campaign signs from the windows of local businesses.

In a complaint filed in Baltimore District Court, Brooks said members of his campaign noticed that signs were missing from businesses along Washington Boulevard. Brooks says store owners told him that Parker had removed the materials and handed out his own literature.

Parker has denied any wrongdoing.

"This was an attempt for a person who was seriously trailing and having problems fundraising to get attention," Parker says. "I certainly never tampered with his signs. I've never seen that challenger as a serious competitor in this race."

The Democrats face off in the June 24 primary election. The winner is to face Republican David Anthony Wiggins.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

The candidates

John W. Anderson

Age: 67

Work experience: Baltimore's sheriff since 1989; former deputy sheriff

Family: Married, three daughters

Richard Parker

Age: 36

Work experience: Founder of "My Corner. My Street. Stop-the-Violence Campaign"; General Assembly legislative aide; operations and training supervisor, U.S. Army

Family: Single, three daughters

Donoven Brooks

Age: 48

Work experience: Patrol supervisor with the city school police; former chief of the Fairmount Heights Police Department

Family: Married, seven children

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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