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Bel Air police chief takes medical leave; interim chief appointed

Bel Air Chief of Police Leo Matrangola, shown during the annual July 4 Bicycle Rodeo in 2013, has taken a medical leave of absence for two to three months, town officials said.
Bel Air Chief of Police Leo Matrangola, shown during the annual July 4 Bicycle Rodeo in 2013, has taken a medical leave of absence for two to three months, town officials said. (Courtesy of Don Stewart / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A high-ranking Harford County Sheriff's Office deputy assumed the rule of interim chief of Bel Air Police Department Wednesday while Chief Leo Matrangola is on a medical leave.

Matrangola's leave began Wednesday and will continue for two to three months, Bel Air town officials announced.

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Maj. Jack Meckley of the Sheriff's Office, who is head of the agency's Police Services Bureau, will serve as Bel Air's interim chief.

"We know that this is an interim [role], and just felt that this was an expedient solution," Bel Air Town Administrator Jim Fielder said Thursday.

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He said town officials "hope for a swift return" for Matrangola, who has been with the BAPD for about 23 years.

Meckley, a 26-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, has previously filled in when there is a vacancy at the Bel Air Police Department, such as when he is needed to oversee a shift.

"He knows the men and women, and he knows the command and control, as well as the town," Fielder said.

The medical leave and Meckley being named interim chief were the subjects of a closed session held after a town commissioners' work session Tuesday evening.

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Meckley, 47, has been with the Sheriff's Office since 1988; his salary is $111,966 a year, according to Cristie Kahler, spokesperson for the agency.

The Police Services Bureau that Meckley oversees in the Sheriff's Office includes two precincts – the northern in Jarrettsville and the southern in Edgewood – and a special operations division, which includes the Community Action Response Team, Gang Suppression Unit, Traffic Unit, Community Policing, K-9 and several secondary assignment units, which encompasses the Special Response Team, the Crisis Negotiation Team, SCUBA team and Honor Guard, according to the Sheriff's Office web site.

"Our neighboring agency needed help, and we're helping them out in their time of need," Meckley said during an interview in the chief's office.

He said he was asked by Sheriff Jesse Bane to take on the interim chief's role and he "graciously accepted."

"I probably have four of the best captains in police work in the state, so they are certainly more than capable of handling things while I'm away," he said.

Meckley said town officials and the Sheriff's Office are "committed to making this as seamless as possible and giving the Town of Bel Air, and more importantly, Chief Matrangola, nothing to worry about."

Meckley also said he plans to go back to the Sheriff's Office once Matrangola returns and has no plans to leave the Sheriff's Office. Any career moves he makes if he does eventually leave are a matter of timing, he said.

Bane said Meckley was among the candidates that he, Matrangola and Fielder discussed for the interim chief's role.

"He had experience with the Bel Air Police Department, and the men and women were familiar with Major Meckley," Bane said.

Bane noted the Sheriff's Office has obligations under state law to provide assistance to municipal police departments whenever it is needed.

He said the town will not be charged for Meckley's services, and Meckley will remain an employee of the Sheriff's Office while serving as interim chief.

"He's my employee," Bane explained. "He's doing something that we have customarily been doing in this county since the Sheriff's Office has been in existence."

He said the Harford sheriff oversaw law enforcement in Bel Air before the town's police department was formed, and that deputies helped provide coverage until the Bel Air police reached appropriate staffing levels in the late 1950s and early '60s.

Fielder said Bel Air police officers, as well as their counterparts in Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, work closely with the Sheriff's Office on a variety of activities, including serving on regional and local task forces, and serving warrants, and that deputies and officers will fill in for each other when needed.

"It's just important these days to be cross trained and communicate at such a level that you can rely on each other," he said.

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