When a public official of the caliber of Baltimore County Police Chief Cornelius J. "Neil" Behan retires after a long and auspicious tenure, the result is often a daunting vacuum.
Fortunately for county residents, that won't be the case when Chief Behan steps down next Monday after 16 years in the job and is succeeded by Col. Michael D. Gambrill.
A smoother transition at the top of the department is hard to imagine.
It's as if Colonel Gambrill was groomed to become chief from the start of his career in the department 32 years ago. He was the first county officer to serve in every rank. He has experienced just about every facet of police work, from learning the streets as a homicide detective to figuring budgets as an administrator. For the past six years, he has overseen the day-to-day operations of the department, a post that entails the lion's share of everything the county police do. By all accounts, he has performed each of his tasks with great skill and professionalism.
No wonder Chief Behan recommended Colonel Gambrill to be his successor when the chief and County Executive Roger B. Hayden met in early 1992 to discuss the appointment of the next department head.
And no wonder county leaders were so pleased when the 50-year-old Colonel Gambrill was announced last March to follow Chief Behan in the top job. Police union officials seemed especially glad that the new chief would be someone who had worked his way up from the rank-and-file and who was a well-known quantity among the 1,600-member force.
As might be expected from the man groomed and hand-picked by Chief Behan, Colonel Gambrill vows to maintain the course established by his predecessor, including commitments to community policing and advocacy of gun control.
However, Colonel Gambrill must be prepared to adapt to changing conditions as the county -- particularly the areas near the Beltway -- becomes increasingly urbanized and acquires some of the problems associated with urban trends. His extensive background and experience, though, suggest that he is capable of meeting this and other challenges.
County residents owe a debt of gratitude to Chief Neil Behan for leaving the police department in far better shape than he found it upon his arrival in 1977. They should also commend him for arranging to pass control to a leader apparently as capable as Col. Michael Gambrill.