Cloud over County Police ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY


Anne Arundel Executive Robert R. Neall continues to keep his distance -- publicly, at least -- from the scandals that have tainted the county police department during his term. His apparent lack of interest is puzzling, considering he has been conscientious and bold about tackling problems in other departments. He basically has left the police to sort out their own problems. Fortunately, they are sufficiently concerned about their latest embarrassment to ask for an outside investigation.

With Mr. Neall's consent, Police Chief Robert Russell has asked the state attorney general's office to probe allegations of misconduct against Capt. Gary Barr, accused of altering two police reports, including one involving a federal agent friend of his. Chief Russell says the investigation is needed to "remove the cloud of doubt that has been cast upon" the department. He's right.

Until the investigation became public through an article in The Sun, police were ready to close the books on Captain Barr, who allegedly doctored a report to help agent Mark K. Novak, who found himself in a heap of trouble Aug. 23 when he had his car stolen -- along with a handgun and 7,000 rounds of ammunition -- after drinking in a Glen Burnie bar.

What happened next is a long story, but it boils down to this: Fearing for his job, Mr. Novak asked that the report be altered to omit the reference to alcohol. Officer William Selander, who handled the matter, refused. But somehow a copy altered to the agent's specifications and bearing Captain Barr's signature was faxed from the captain's station to federal officials.

As fishy as this case smelled, police internal affairs officials decided not to bring charges against Captain Barr. They pointed to a note, written by Mr. Novak to Officer Selander, saying he had made the changes and faxed the report himself. What they ignored was the question of how Mr. Novak got the report and was able to fax it from Captain Barr's station, with Captain Barr's signature.

Now internal affairs is investigating charges that Captain Barr altered another report, which has mysteriously disappeared.

Captain Barr insists he is innocent. Nevertheless, an investigation needs to be made. The circumstances are too suspicious to close the books and declare everything A-OK.

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