Protection for 7 top state officials costs $1.9 million

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Every morning a state trooper arrives at Oakland Hall, the Calvert County home of Louis L. Goldstein, to whisk the state comptroller 40 miles to work. For the next 12 hours, the trooper will not stray far from him.

Mr. Goldstein is among an elite group of Maryland politicians who together receive nearly $2 million a year worth of protection and transportation from the state police.

More than 30 troopers guard the governor and six other state officials, including the lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, Senate president and House speaker.

Half of those troopers are assigned to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who gets round-the-clock protection. The others shadow the lower-ranking politicians during work hours only, driving them to and from work, appointments and political appearances.

A trooper regularly drives House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. from his Cumberland home to his Annapolis office. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's Democrat, has his trooper drive him to events and meetings around the state.

Last year, troopers ferried other lawmakers to a party and an Orioles game.

Maryland provides police protection to more government officials than other states in the region, according to a Sun survey, and some critics say the state has gone overboard with this "perk" of office.

"What it amounts to is a chauffeur service," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican.

If troopers are being used primarily as drivers, "it doesn't seem as if it's a wise use of law enforcement personnel in this day and age," said Republican Richard D. Bennett, a former federal prosecutor and unsuccessful candidate for attorney general.

Lt. Gregory M. Shipley, state police spokesman, defended the state's executive and legislative protection service, which dates back several decades.

"We feel the security that is provided those officials is appropriate," he said. Citing security concerns, he declined to discuss how many threats might have been received against individual politicians.

The list of officials eligible for police protection is much shorter in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia. The Sun surveyed those five states because of their proximity to Maryland.

None of them assigns police officers to the state comptroller, treasurer or House speaker. Senate presidents entitled to such services qualify because they also are their state's lieutenant governor.

Some of the states do not provide bodyguards to their lieutenant governor and attorney general.

The Maryland State Police security corps has come under scrutiny in recent years over reports that troopers have gone beyond the call of police duty. Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer had his troopers do yardwork, walk his dog and run errands for his longtime companion Hilda Mae Snoops.

Last fall, Mr. Bennett criticized Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. for having his trooper drive him to campaign events and Curran family members on out-of-state trips.

Mr. Curran said he followed police procedures allowing him to use his trooper during the campaign. A trooper may have taken his wife on excursions when she accompanied him on business trips, Mr. Curran said, but he paid taxes on the cost of that travel.

Mr. Goldstein said that police protection is necessary because the world has become a dangerous place for many government officials. As he spoke, he thumbed through a folder containing newspaper clippings about the Oklahoma City bombing and anti-government groups.

But Mr. Goldstein has received protection since he was first elected comptroller 36 years ago -- a time when he says Maryland was safer.

As head of the agency that collects state income taxes and enforces alcohol and tobacco tax laws, Mr. Goldstein said he receives one or two threats a year, mainly from tax protesters.

The trooper provides an equally important function as his driver, Mr. Goldstein said, by enabling him to work in the car. Whatever is spent for the troopers' services is worth it, he said.

Police protection costs almost $1.6 million a year for executive branch officials, including Mr. Goldstein, and $300,000 for the legislative branch.

Mr. Glendening said he has reduced the executive security force from 31 troopers to 27 since taking office in January. "We're trying to be as efficient as possible," he said.

The governor said he will not interfere with the level of protection afforded legislators because he believes in a separation of powers.

Five troopers are assigned to the legislature year round. They are joined by 11 others during the 90-day General Assembly session, when troopers are charged with maintaining order in the chambers and 10 committee rooms. They also act as the sergeant-at-arms, a largely ceremonial job generally performed by civilians in other states.

The presiding officers are not the only ones with access to police protection and transportation.

Others have obtained permission from the speaker and president to be driven to meetings outside Annapolis, even to social events, state records show.

On Opening Day 1994 -- the first Orioles home game of the season -- a trooper drove four delegates from Annapolis to the stadium in Baltimore. The trooper later took them back to the State House for a floor session.

The group was Speaker Pro Tem Gary R. Alexander and Del. Timothy F. Maloney of Prince George's County, Del. Ronald A. Guns of Cecil County, and Del. Thomas E. Dewberry of Baltimore County.

"We were all guests of Gary," Mr. Dewberry said. "We met in his office. We came outside, and there was this trooper."

Mr. Dewberry said he assumed the trooper was there "to get us back [to Annapolis] on time because we did have a session that evening."

Mr. Alexander, now a lobbyist, said he did not remember why a trooper was necessary.

Similarly, a trooper drove another group of four delegates from Annapolis to Kent Island to attend a retirement dinner for former Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. during the 1994 session.

The group was Dels. Sheila E. Hixson of Montgomery County, Kenneth H. Masters of Baltimore County, Ann Marie Doory of Baltimore and Michael E. Busch of Anne Arundel County, all Democrats.

"It seemed to me there was a need to get everyone there and back by a [certain time]," recalled Mr. Masters, who lost his re-election bid in November.

Mr. Taylor said he doesn't remember specifically why he approved those trips and others last year.

Generally, Mr. Taylor said, he allows delegates to use troopers as drivers during the session only if there is a need for "quickness." Troopers know how to cut through traffic and expedite a trip, the Western Maryland Democrat said.

"They don't have parking problems. That's a big part of it," he said. Because troopers can park anywhere? "Sure."

Mr. Taylor said that this year he approved no more than a half-dozen such trips, primarily to take delegates to funerals or, if they were sick, to doctors. Police logs show he approved four trips during the 90-day session this year, down from 24 trips during the same time period in 1994.

Mr. Miller said he also approves transportation requests by his colleagues on a case-by-case basis.

For example, he gave Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, a veteran legislator from Baltimore, liberal use of a trooper last year while Mr. Blount recuperated from heart bypass surgery. Mr. Blount used the trooper almost 100 days in 1994, according to police logs.

Maryland's neighbor to the south, Virginia, takes a far different approach to protecting its elected officials.

Police protect government buildings in Virginia but do not serve as personal bodyguards to anyone but the governor. Even Virginia Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr., who also functions as Senate president, does not have a trooper assigned to him.

"Who would want to hurt Don Beyer?" asked Col. Lonnie Craig, chief of the capital police in Richmond. "We're the Jefferson, Madison and Monroe people down here. Mr. Jefferson would not want the lieutenant governor to need protection."

David Botkins, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. George F. Allen, said security is so important "that we don't discuss it here in Virginia."

"But," he added, "I can tell you it's not as wide-ranging or sweeping as it is in Maryland."

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