Despite rumors that his days as Howard County police chief may be numbered, Frederick W. Chaney isn't hesitating to assume a battle stance against his adversaries -- even though some of them have strong voices in the new county order.
Yet Chaney, who has taken heat from his own officers about his strict and to-the-letter style of internal discipline, said he is confident that County Executive-elect Charles I. Ecker and his team will respect Chaney's leadership and decisions.
"For those people out there who think we deserve a 'Dirty Harry' award, all I can say is that they should get their facts together. Tell them they should do their homework," Chaney said. "All I ask is for a fair appraisal of what I've done.
"I have an excellent record. It speaks for itself."
The 'Dirty Harry' award was recently presented by the Howard County branch of the NAACP, which ripped county police, alleging excessive brutality and ineffective leadership. Howard County residents at odds with the department have pointed to the Dirty Harry award in their criticisms of Chaney, who has been chief since August 1987.
According to the department, 126 complaints against police officers were initiated in the first six months of this year, 13 of them alleging excessive force. Police officials, pointing to the 40,000 incidents police responded to during the same period, say the number of complaints is small by comparison.
Ecker's transition team includes some people who could be viewed as Chaney opponents -- including NAACP counsel Charles Ware and Louise Riemer, the mother of controversial police officer Victor Riemer. But Chaney's fate may depend more on a very few members of the Ecker team who are responsible for reviewing the chief's appointment.
Chaney has met with committee members twice so far. But interviews will be conducted with citizens, police officials and officers through Jan. 15, when final recommendations are due from all transition teams, said Beverly M. Wilhide, co-chairman of the transition team.
"We're looking to go slow with these issues," said Wilhide, who said Ecker's chief concerns right now involve the county budget. "I'm assuming (Ecker) will re-confirm some appointments. A wholesale slaughter just ain't good for the business."
So far, Ecker has shown a neutral stance toward the chief issue and the transition team has not ranked the police chief appointment as a top concern, said Wilhide.
Heading the three-person team that will be looking into the chief appointment is Dana Caro, a former FBI agent who lives in Ellicott City.
Caro, who was with the FBI for 25 years and headed the Maryland-Delaware field office, expects to give Ecker a preliminary report on the police department within the next week.
Recommendations concerning the police chief appointment will primarily be made by Caro himself, he said. He expects about 75 to 100 people will be interviewed before a final report is made.
"The chief of police is the most significant position Mr. Ecker will be looking at," Caro said. "We're not looking at this as an investigation, but a chance to provide recommendations. I'm mainly focusing on the three E's: Efficiency, Effectiveness and Economy."
Caro said he sees no blatant problems with the Howard County police.
"Howard County's got a good police department. It's made up of good people and good recruits," Caro said.
Nevertheless, Chaney, 53, has found himself facing some unpleasant issues that surfaced during the past year, including the controversial May 4 hanging death of Carl Jonathan Bowie and a related police brutality investigation.
In January, Bowie and his brother charged they were beaten by county police officers who broke up a loud party at a Jessup motel. Bowie's family and friends later criticized police for what they called a poor handling of the investigation into the 19-year-old Columbia man's death.
Last week, the county police internal affairs division filed department charges of excessive force against three officers involved in the motel incident. Chaney's decision to move ahead with internal charges -- and his decision to make the news public -- came after a grand jury investigation cleared the officers of criminal charges.
One of the officers charged in the internal complaint was Victor Riemer.
His attorney, Clark Ahlers of Columbia, blasted Chaney last week for what he called an underhanded attempt by Chaney to save face with the public.
Chaney insists his actions were strictly "by the book." He said he went ahead with the charges "even though I could have made it a lot easier for myself if I had just gone along with what the grand jury said."
"Integrity means everything to a police department," Chaney said. "But some guys want to go back to the old days when a complaint was made and the investigating officer would just say, 'Oh, yeah,' and hang up the phone."
But Dale L. Hill, the president of the Howard County police union, said many officers have objected to the chief's "nit-picking" style. He also accused Chaney of "resurrecting the charges" in the Bowie case, which he said "should have been allowed to die" after the grand jury investigation.
"Minor things get looked at as major things around here," Hill said. "It creates an 'us against them' attitude where a lot of guys end up looking over their shoulders and are afraid to do their job."
Both Chaney and the police department also came under fire from the NAACP -- which has berated county police tactics throughout Chaney's tenure -- in a recent report that criticized the department for "running amok."
Chaney came to Howard County police after County Executive Elizabeth Bobo appointed him to succeed former chief Paul Rappaport. Chaney, a Columbia resident, had been a major with Montgomery County police, where he worked for 25 years. Previously, he was a Washington police officer for three years.
He lists some of his major accomplishments as the forming of a street drug unit and an added emphasis on narcotics law enforcement; adding 52 officers to the department; and beefing up the ranks of minority officers in both patrol and management.