The hunt is on for a new county police chief.
Arriving with the news last week that Police Chief Frederick W. Chaney had been dismissed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker were rumors to suggest four prominent candidates for the job -- but Ecker says he's not leaning toward anyone.
"There are no front-runners. They're all at the starting line together," said Ecker, who has received about 15 applications for the job.
"I'm looking for someone with extensive police experience, as well as someone who deals well with community groups."
But speculation has already begun on the favored candidates. Perhaps the most prominent among them is Chaney's second-in-command, Maj. James N.
Others in line for the job are Garth V. Davis, a former county police lieutenant who later became a part-owner of the Trucker's Inn truck stop in Jessup, and John R. Smith, a retired deputy assistant director of the U.S.
Secret Service who now lives in West Friendship.
Rumors also point to state police Lt. Col. James Harvey, the chief of the services bureau at Pikesville headquarters, although Harvey said he has not made any decisions about applying.
Ecker's appointee is expected to be someone with public relations skills, which many believe the new chief will need to combat community mistrust toward the Police Department -- a mistrust that may have caused Chaney's downfall.
"There was almost a feeling from the people we talked to that the community didn't appreciate their Police Department, which surprised me because I think Howard County has a fine police force," said Dana Caro, who headed Ecker's public safety transition team.
"Many of the people said they felt the Police Department was not as responsive as it could be to the community. Some said, 'I'm not sure the police are under control,' " Caro said. "Perceptions are sometimes stronger than reality. But if (Ecker) picks the right man, those perceptions could disappear in 30 days."
Ecker said he and a few members of his staff will review applications and expect to make a decision by Feb. 1. Chaney, who was asked Wednesday by Ecker to resign from the $55,000-a-year job, will depart no later than March 1.
Robey, 49, is the only major in the county Police Department and served as acting chief for approximately four months in 1987, in between Chaney's arrival and former Chief Paul Rappaport's departure.
Robey said he has not yet applied for the job, although many community members and police officers have approached him about becoming chief.
"I've had a lot of people encourage me, but right now I don't know what the county executive's intentions are," Robey said. "If he would be interested, I think I would be interested. I'm more than qualified for the job."
Robey is in charge of the field operations bureau, which commands approximately two-thirds of the department's 300 officers. His nearly 25-year tenure with county police has been "a clean one," said Dale L.
Hill, president of the Howard County Police Officer's Association.
"He's been very instrumental in dealing with the union," said Hill, who said the union has not yet been asked by Ecker for an endorsement or recommendation. "I would think he'd have a good shot at (becoming chief)."
In the last two months, Ecker's transition team examined not only the police chief's position, but Robey's job as well.
One of the most prominent candidates for the job is Davis, a 48-year-old Ellicott City resident who served as a Howard County police officer for 13 years before leaving in 1978. He then became a partner of Trucker's Inn, one of the largest truck stops on the East Coast, before dropping out of the partnership to go into consulting work.
Davis actively has solicited recommendations and endorsements from area political figures and was occasionally seen at Ecker's transition team office, helping out with office work.
But he refused to answer questions about how he would run the office or why he is interested. "Right now, the only thing I will say is that yes, I have applied," Davis said.
Davis worked his way up to the rank of lieutenant before resigning from the department. Many of the veteran officers still keep in touch with him and he is considered a strong candidate for that reason, sources said.
During his partnership at the Trucker's Inn, Davis frequently worked hand-in-hand with county and state police in sting operations to clean up the truck stop's well-known drug and prostitution problems.
Smith, 43, retired in December after 20 years as a Secret Service agent in protective operations, a uniformed division of the federal agency.
Smith, who has lived in Howard County since 1981, said he has always been interested in community law enforcement. "I'm just considering applying at this point," he noted.
"It's something I think I would be good at, and I know we need someone right now," Smith said.
District 5 County Council member Charles C. Feaga, with whom Smith initially discussed the chief's position in early December, has recommended in a letter to Ecker that Smith be considered a qualified candidate.
"I cited your extensive experience, the fact that you are a Howard County resident, and a Republican," Feaga wrote to Smith about the recommendation.
Harvey, who has been mentioned in recent weeks by several county police officers as a likely candidate, said he has thought about applying but hasn't been reached by anyone from the Ecker administration.
The job of Howard County police chief "would certainly be of interest to me," said Harvey, 50. "I'm flattered about the rumors and I hope there are some truth to them. But right now, I haven't made any decisions."
Harvey, an Anne Arundel County resident, has been a state police officer for over 25 years and was formerly the commander of the Howard County barracks in Waterloo.
Within the police force, officers are hoping for a chief "who can deal well with people" and straighten out the perception by the community that county police "are a bunch of nasty boys," said Hill, the union president.
"It's so ridiculous that we've gotten this reputation. It needs to be cleared up," Hill said. "We're one of the squeakiest-clean departments in the state. We don't deserve the reputation we've gotten, and we hope the new chief can relay that to the community."
Chief among the blows the department has received in the past year is a dubious recognition by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which gave county police its "Dirty Harry Award." NAACP officials ranked county police as among the five worst jurisdictions in the state for police brutality.
Community criticism also came in connection with the May 4 death of Carl Jonathan Bowie, a Columbia teen-ager who was found hanged after claiming he had been beaten by county police during a misdemeanor arrest four months earlier.
Chaney, a Columbia resident who expects to move to a new home in Ellicott City next month, said he has no plans yet for a new job.
"I'm not really surprised that he (Ecker) wants to replace me. That's politics," said the 53-year-old Chaney. "I'm disappointed, though, because I think I did a good job."