Howard County's next police chief must be capable of playing to two very different constituencies. On the one hand, he must boost the sagging morale of a department aware of public dissatisfaction and fearful about job security. At the same time, he must engender confidence among distrustful Howard residents. County Executive Charles I. Ecker's choice for the job, Police Maj. James N. Robey, a 25-year veteran and Howard County native who has risen through ranks, is well-qualified to do both.
Major Robey, unlike his predecessor Frederick Chaney, is said to be well-liked and respected by his underlings. He is also a well-known commodity in the community, having worked with the YMCA of Howard County and the Community Relations Council of Howard County General Hospital.
Still, the obstacles facing the new chief are considerable. First and foremost, he must deal with acrimonious contract talks that may lead to layoffs. As if this weren't enough, the department's recruiting, training and management practices are being investigated by a citizen advisory committee in the wake of allegations of brutality, incompetence and racial insensitivity.
As second in command, Major Robey is well aware of the challenges facing him. The question is how he chooses to deal with them. Correcting the problems of the recent past in an atmosphere of austerity won't be easy. Neither will heeding the recommendations of the advisory committee, which is seen by many on the police force as unnecessary and meddlesome.
Nonetheless, Major Robey has a chance to reverse the perception that Howard County has a police problem. His predecessor spent a lot of time and energy fighting that perception, to little avail. Howard's new police chief must do better.