A former dean at Carroll Community College, Steve Geppi, has returned to his roots to weed out corruption.
Geppi, 63, who owns a home in Westminster but spends most of his time in Timonium, was recently named as director of the Office of Investigation, Intelligence and Fugitive Apprehension with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
In this capacity he will oversee the activities of multiple units with the mission of ensuring the integrity of the state's correctional institutions.
Prior to his 15 years with Carroll Community College — during eight of which he held the position of dean — Geppi spent 24 years with the Maryland State Police, eventually retiring in 1997 at the rank of major and with the title assistant chief of the Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement.
The Times caught up with Geppi to ask him why he returned to law enforcement, which he identified as a calling, and how he plans on ending corruption in Maryland's correctional facilities that he said "runs wide and deep."
Q: How did you land the secretary's director position?
A: [Gov. Larry] Hogan got elected and I met up with Secretary Steve Moyer [of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services] and he asked me to take the position and I did. It's a big leap for me to tell you the truth; academia is extremely laid back. You never get calls in the middle of the night, no matter what you do nobody dies, there's no mistake you can't fix. It's a bit of a challenge coming back to this type of work but it's where I feel most at home.
Q: You call this job a "calling." What do you mean by that?
A: You don't do this job for the money, and you don't do this for the glory, I think you do it because it's a job that needs to be done. It's certainly not eight hours a day and not five days a week. It's constant; it never stops. You have to really want to do this work to do it. That's the best way I can explain it. It's like police work: It's not a job, it's a way of life.
Q: What will your primary responsibilities be?
A: My primary job is the elimination of corruption within this department. I'll be right up front with you: The corruption within this department runs wide and deep. It's a culture of corruption. We believe that the elimination of corruption starts with hiring the right people. So we are working on totally revamping our hiring process. I've taken over that role by having under me the Corrections Centralized Hiring Unit which hires all of our correctional officers and all of our mandated positions. Background investigations are mandated for certain types of people — fingerprint checks, that kind of thing. Also consistent with all of that, I have the Integrity Investigation Division, the Intelligence Division of the Inspector General's Office and the Warrant Apprehension Unit that fall under me.
Q: What changes are you planning on making?
A: We have been changing things since we walked in the door [in March]. The hiring process has changed. One of the things that we implemented that is working is instant ID. Whenever you walk in to take the exam to be a correctional officer we take your fingerprint right away. If you have a criminal background, you're gone; we don't waste time with you. Before, you could get halfway through the process before you were eliminated. Look at all the man hours that we were wasting. Now, we are eliminating about 10 percent of our applicants at the testing phase before they even take the test so we don't waste any money or have to deal with that kind of stuff. We also are doing a personal history investigation. People are admitting to amazing things — self-reported drug use, self-reported criminal backgrounds — and we eliminate them as well. There are other changes that will take place. We are implementing routine investigations [at correctional facilities]. We are changing the operations of the warrant apprehension unit to some degree. We are starting to say no. Before, we were afraid to say no, we can't do it. Well, we can't do everything. When you try to be all things for all people you start to slip. You can't be good at everything. So we are starting to emphasize what we are best at doing. I think what we do best is gathering intelligence and making proactive cases and we will be much more efficient at that.
Beginning Oct. 1, we will be instituting polygraph examinations to all of our correction officers before they are hired. Right now, we lose about 90 percent of our applicants during the background process. Of the remaining 10 percent we expect to lose 60 percent of those. It's a guess, but that's what we expect. So if 100 people applied we'll hire four or five of them. [The 7,000] current correctional officers will be grandfathered in. Could you imagine? We would lose 60 percent of them.
Q: How does this position vary from your past work experience?
A: It's much broader. At my last job at the state police I was an assistant bureau chief; I had 13 counties and the city. It's pretty much the same operation everywhere; every geographical area is a little bit different but it's still the same. Criminal and internal operations are kind of the same everywhere you went but here it's much more complex and varied. One minute I'm talking about the hiring process and the next I'm talking about a corruption case; it's just so different. What I find about this job is we are always reacting to what somebody else comes up with. I mean, if you put 23,000 idle minds that are in our facilities — some people call them clients but they are our prisoners — and let them think about ways to beat the system, that's a daunting task to stay even one step ahead of them, if that's even possible. Then you have the other side where some of our folks are helping them to do what they want to do and it becomes even more difficult. So we are facing the inmates, the corrupt employees that we have and we are facing the visitors who also help contribute to contraband introduction.
The discipline here was not what it was at the state police. That's a quasi-military, squared-away outfit. There, policies are in place and procedures are in place. Here, I feel like we are starting from scratch in many ways. Policies aren't in place but we're fixing that.
Q: How have your previous experiences prepared you for your new role overseeing multiple units and divisions?
A: People ask me that all the time. It's all the same job — it's management, it's dealing with people, it's interpersonal communication. If you can get along with people that's 90 percent of the job. Just because you're the boss doesn't mean you know everything. At the college, I had eight department heads working for me and they represented 20 to 25 disciplines. I know a little bit about one discipline: that's criminal justice. The rest of them I know nothing about. I had psychology, sociology and economy and political science and English and philosophy and foreign language and fine and performing arts. God knows I know nothing about that. I just don't think it's all that much different.