Ex-city police commander leads University of Virginia case

Timothy J. Longo Sr. once commanded a single Baltimore police district that was larger, more populated and more dangerous than the entire Virginia city he now serves as police chief.

But now, the grandson of an immigrant from Sicily, who spent nearly two decades quickly rising through the turbulent ranks of the city police department before leaving in 2000, is at the center of a crime garnering national attention.

Longo has been in front of the cameras in Charlottesville, answering questions about the slaying of a University of Virginia lacrosse player from Cockeysville, a compelling story of broken romance, sports and affluence that has rocked a prestigious university near Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.

Yeardley Love, 22, was killed early Monday and fellow student George Huguely, a men's lacrosse player who grew up in Chevy Chase, has been charged in her death. Longo has been quoted by The New York Times and appeared on CNN and MSNBC.

Longo, the once young, rising star of the city force, a graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School who began his career as a teenage cadet and rose to be a top aide in the commissioner's office, broke down while doing a network television interview on Tuesday.

He couldn't help thinking of his own family — his wife, two daughters, ages 23 and 10, and two sons, ages 20 and 12.

"Can you imagine what the mother of Yeardley is feeling when she wakes having a life completely dismantled by this?" Longo said in an interview Tuesday. "And the Huguely parents, both of whom were to come here in a couple weeks expecting a graduation and a new life?"

Longo can afford to get personal with crime when there is so little compared to his old job. Charlottesville recorded zero murders in 2009, compared to Baltimore's 238. In the Southeastern District, he oversaw 208 cops serving 90,000 people; the force he now leads has just 117 officers for half that population.

"The crime that we expect here for an entire year is a bad weekend in Baltimore," Longo said.

Longo, who is now 47, was born in Southwest Baltimore's Edmondson Heights, the son of a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel assigned to an amphibious assault unit in World War II and grandson of a Sicilian barber who arrived on a boat in New York or Baltimore. Longo earned an undergraduate degree from what is now Towson University.

He started his career in law enforcement at age 18, joining another young recruit, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, at what was called the "hot desk." There, the two ambitious almost-police officers answered phones, looked up license plate numbers for beat cops and ran names to see if they were wanted.

Longo and Bealefeld became friends and rose quickly through the department. Bealefeld was first to be promoted to sergeant and lieutenant, but Longo, while taking classes at the University of Baltimore School of Law, soon caught up. Longo served as commander of the Southeast, was in charge of technical services and served as chief of staff to then-Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.

Bealefeld participated in Longo's wedding and Longo was a groomsman for Bealefeld, though he nearly didn't make it. Longo fell chasing a criminal and broke his arm, and had to have one sleeve of his tux cut off so his cast-encased limb could fit through the black jacket.

Longo left the department as a colonel in 2000, two years shy of getting a full pension, during a turbulent time as a new police commissioner ,Ronald L. Daniel, made sweeping changes and excised much of the command staff. A year later, he settled in Charlottesville.

Bealefeld, who is now Baltimore's police commissioner and said he hasn't kept up with his old friend as much as he would like, called Longo "the smartest guy I ever worked with" and warned to not be misled by the small size of the Virginia police department. "He could just as easily be running a department with 5,000 employees," Bealefeld said.

The commissioner said he still talks about Longo when he addresses officers, telling them about how he became a lawyer while still working as a cop and raising a family. The joke Bealefeld often tells is that, should both retire to work security at a Disney resort, Longo "would be in corporate and I'd would be relegated to a Cushman with a blue blazer."

Bealefeld did warn, however, that his old friend should take it easy with the media on such a high-profile case. He called the killing in Charlottesville "the kind of case that has enormous salability. Right now, less is best, if I were him."

Longo runs a department in an upscale university town with a part-time spokesman who handles the routine, day-to-day crimes. He said the community expects his face front and center during big events, and Longo appears comfortable in this role.

In Baltimore, he found himself quoted in the papers more than other commanders, in part because he was accessible and straightforward. He returned to testify at an administrative hearing for a cop who took a bribe from a drug dealer and he was front and center when police worked up a plan to go after more than 50,000 unserved arrest warrants.

He imported some Baltimore ideas to Charlottesville. One was Comstat, a computer analysis of crime dissected by commanders in meetings. But his meetings are monthly, not weekly, and less contentious than in big cities.

The city's newspaper, The Daily Progress, has profiled Longo's "friendlier method to fight crime" and efforts to implement "community policing" by assigning officers specifically to that task. It is a strategy he said he picked up in Baltimore.

He still has family here, but his wife visits more often than he does.

He is the voice of a complex story with competing narratives that has a small city's bucolic image threatened by a heinous crime. It is beyond anything this one-time Baltimore cop had to deal with policing one of the most crime-ridden cities in America.

"We will do our best to work through this and find justice in the end."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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