Robert P. Russell, chief of the Anne Arundel County Police Department since 1991, announced yesterday that he will retire Dec. 1 to become president of Coronet Security Systems Inc., a subsidiary of the Crown Central Petroleum Corp.
Chief Russell, 51, described the firm as a "relatively new" company. His office will be in Baltimore, where he was born and lived until he moved to Anne Arundel County 29 years ago.
The 28-year veteran of the county police force was out of the office and unavailable for comment yesterday. He said in a written statement he will "have an opportunity to direct [Coronet's] growth and increase its profitability."
In his statement, directed to "all personnel," Chief Russell said the officers have made "our Department one of the finest and most respected law enforcement agencies in the Nation."
"You are truly special people and I will miss every one of you," he wrote.
Deputy Chief Robert Beck will take over as acting police chief Nov. 15 when Chief Russell goes on vacation before starting his new job. The winner of the race for county executive -- either Democrat Theodore J. Sophocleus or Republican John G. Gary -- is expected to name the permanent police chief.
Neither Mr. Sophocleus nor Mr. Gary could be reached for comment yesterday. County Executive Robert R. Neall, who appointed Chief Russell in February 1991, had nothing but praise for him.
"Bob Russell is one of the finest police chiefs in the nation," Mr. Neall said. "His peers just elected him president of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association. We have been fortunate to have his service in Anne Arundel County, and I wish him the very best in his new venture."
There has been speculation for months that Chief Russell would be out of a job in December when a new county executive takes office.
Chief Russell applied for the job of police chief of New Orleans and made the final list of three candidates in May of this year. City officials in New Orleans have not decided on a new chief, said Sgt. Mark Howes, an administrative assistant to Chief Russell.
"That's part of the reason he took the job with Crown. He got tired of them waiting for them to make a decision," Sergeant Howes said of the New Orleans job.
Chief Russell's three-year tenure as head of the department was marred by controversies surrounding sexual harassment and sexual misconduct on the part of some officers.
But he also was praised for starting innovative programs, such as the Youth Activities Program, which became a model for effective community policing.
"He is one of the true visionaries that I have ever known," said Capt. Michael Fitzgibbons, the commander of the department's Criminal Investigations Division. "He had a lot of ideas when he took over the job in 1991 and he's seen all the ideas come to fruition. I've never worked with a more charismatic person. He's both a people person and an organization person at the same time."
Chief Russell appointed Cpl. Gordon March to organize the Youth Activities Program in April 1992 to "give area youth an alternative to crime and drugs," Sergeant Howes said.
In May of this year, Chief Russell implemented the light rail initiative, placing uniform and undercover officers at light rail stations and the Cromwell Field Shopping Center to curb rising incidents of shoplifting in the stores attributed to rail passengers.
The initiative led to a sharp reduction in crime on and near the light rail stations, police officials said earlier this year.
Chief Russell started his career with county police in 1966 as a uniformed patrol officer. He worked his way up the ranks, becoming a sergeant in 1971, a lieutenant in 1973, a captain in 1978 and a deputy chief in 1986.