Baltimore County police chief pick draws praise from officials, officers


Col. Michael D. Gambrill, Baltimore County's police chief-designate, said yesterday that he doesn't anticipate making "any dramatic changes, no left or right turns" when he takes over Sept. 20.

Running the department won't be new for Colonel Gambrill, 50, who has overseen the day-to-day operations since 1987, and who served as acting chief during Chief Cornelius J. Behan's absence.

His succession to Chief Behan was announced yesterday.

County officials, judges and fellow officers praised the selection. One county councilman said Colonel Gambrill, who joined the force in 1961, was "one of the finest investigators" he'd ever seen.

A fellow officer said the colonel had "paid his dues" and worked his way up through the department.

"He is a sensitive and caring leader," said Chief Behan. "I will leave the department in good hands."

Yesterday, Colonel Gambrill reaffirmed his commitment to community policing and gun control, areas in which Chief Behan gained an international reputation.

He thanked the chief for his "mentorship" and County Executive Roger B. Hayden "for the opportunity to continue the department's progress toward the 21st century."

A resident of Carroll County, Colonel Gambrill was a sergeant when Chief Behan took over in 1977.

The new chief immediately set about training a cadre of young officers to assume future leadership of the department.

When it came time to retire, Chief Behan said, he saw Colonel Gambrill, a product of his own management plan, as the logical successor. He suggested the colonel to Mr. Hayden during discussions that began a year ago.

Mr. Hayden said he considered the recommendation "and we concurred, Colonel Gambrill gets high marks from everyone."

Mr. Hayden pointed out that Chief Behan's philosophy will spare the county the expense and uncertainty involved in a widespread search for a successor.

"We are fortunate to have within our own Police Department an individual who is highly qualified and capable of carrying on the tradition of excellence which Chief Behan has instilled," the county executive said.

Mr. Hayden said he will submit Colonel Gambrill's name immediately for County Council confirmation.

Colonel Gambrill already seems to have captured the vote of council Chairman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, a 3rd District Democrat.

Mr. Ruppersberger, a former prosecutor, said Colonel Gambrill worked for him years ago and "was one of the finest investigators I've ever seen and he worked well with people, too."

Chief Circuit Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr. said he has watched Colonel Gambrill "progress through the department from cadet to colonel and he has always done an excellent job."

Lt. Timothy Caslin, current chairman of the county's Fraternal Order of Police lodge and a 23-year veteran of the force, praised Chief Behan for instilling such professionalism in the department that it was only logical the new chief be promoted from within.

"He was able to orchestrate this and groom someone so we don't miss a beat," Lieutenant Caslin said. "There is no unknown coming in. We know who we are going to be dealing with."

Maj. William Kelly, who heads the county's field services division, described Colonel Gambrill as a "hands-on" leader and a "workaholic" who showed up unexpectedly Saturday night in the midst of a blizzard "to make sure we had the resources we needed.

"He's worked the street," Major Kelly said. "He's worked arson, he's been a homicide detective, he's worked on the budget and in administration. He's paid his dues."

After being promoted to major in 1983, Colonel Gambrill moved into administrative duties and served in field operations, planning and budget, and administrative services.

In 1987, he took command of the crime prevention and community policing bureau, which put him in charge of virtually every aspect of the department's daily operations.

He will become president of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association the same week in September he assumes command of the county's 1,500-member police force.

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