Editorial: Taneytown police agency needs new set of eyes, fresh start

Less than 24 hours before ex-Taneytown Police Chief William Tyler pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of possession and transfer of a machine gun he had purchased for the department, the Mayor and City Council of Taneytown opted to announce Lt. Jason Etzler would continue as the acting chief of the department, and that it would have the Maryland Police Training Commission audit the department’s training records “to ensure that best training practices are being followed.”

Residents of Taneytown shouldn’t be satisfied with that outcome and instead should demand that the council look outside to find a new chief and, in the interim, ask either the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office or Maryland State Police to provide a member of their staff to serve as the acting chief.


That isn’t an indictment of Etzler, who according to Taneytown Mayor James McCarron is “ready and willing to make necessary and appropriate changes.” (Although, that statement itself is indicative that elected leaders recognize changes need to be made.) Rather, it is a matter of public perception and transparency.

While an audit by the Maryland Police Training Commission is a good step, we think it would be wiser to have someone from an outside agency run day-to-day operations of the Taneytown Police Department to see what other issues there may be as it relates to the department’s culture or anything else that might be happening behind the scenes. The city should’ve also announced a plan to conduct a nationwide search for a new chief of police.

After all, it wasn’t just the federal charges against Tyler that have raised questions; there is also the matter of the September letter from a “concerned officer” that called out department leadership — including Etzler — for ruling “by fear.” Yes, it was one anonymous complaint, but the accusation that police equipment was being purchased for personal use doesn’t seem particularly farfetched after Tyler’s admission of guilt Tuesday for doing exactly that with a machine gun.

Where there is smoke, there is fire. And the city’s elected officials owe it to residents to ensure that the goings-on at the Police Department are on the up-and-up, something that could’ve easily been accomplished by requesting help from an outside law enforcement agency to run things until a new chief could be found.

Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees told us that it’s not unusual for his agency to be asked by other police departments or sheriff’s offices to step in and perform internal investigations or audits. “We’ve done that several times here locally in the county,” DeWees said, “and have gone outside the county to assist with internal investigations so that there is no perception of conflict.”

DeWees has also lent his personnel to lead in municipal departments when needed. For example, one of the Sheriff’s Office’s majors stepped in when Hampstead’s police chief stepped down in early 2018, leading that department until a new permanent chief was named later that summer.

It seems clear to us that, had the City of Taneytown reached out to the sheriff, he would have lent the city his staff’s experience and expertise until a new chief was found.

This would not have necessarily precluded Etzler or anyone else within the Taneytown Police Department from seeking a promotion to be its next chief. And, to be clear, city officials have not specifically said Etzler is the only choice for the job. We are hopeful Taneytown’s council members will consider multiple outside candidates for the post as well.

When things are running smoothly, it makes sense to look from within for the sake of consistency. Things have been anything but smooth sailing for the Taneytown Police Department as of late.

In the short-term, the perspective of an outsider, with fresh eyes, is greatly needed to restore the citizens’ trust in the Police Department.