From the grade schools of Baltimore to the halls of Andover High to the rice paddies of Vietnam, Robert Beck remained hungry to become a police officer.
Yesterday morning, he got the frosting on his career when Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary named him chief of police, ending a 6 1/2 -month nationwide search in which the 27-year veteran of the county department surged ahead of 100 other applicants.
"I'm absolutely ecstatic to stand here this morning and accept this appointment," said a smiling Chief Beck, 49. "It's a personal pleasure to me to find out hard work pays off."
During a news conference at which he also announced that Stephen D. Halford would be fire administrator and Hilton Wade personnel officer, Mr. Gary said he sought applications from police all across the country after consulting former County Executive Robert R. Neall.
Mr. Neall "felt that you test your chief by comparing him to police around the country," Mr. Gary said, explaining the lengthy selection process.
Mr. Beck was deputy chief of technical services in November when he was named acting chief to replace Robert P. Russell, who retired. When Mr. Gary, who took office in December, discovered that he worked well with the acting chief and that their management styles were similar, he decided to make Mr. Beck's appointment permanent.
"I was absolutely convinced that our visions [for the Police Department] were identical," Mr. Gary said.
Mr. Russell, an executive with Coronet Security Systems Inc. in Baltimore, praised Mr. Gary's selection.
Mr. Beck "supports the style and philosophy of police service that county residents have come to expect," Mr. Russell said.
Col. Joseph S. Johnson, the Annapolis police chief, said he was "very happy" about Chief Beck's appointment.
"I've known Bob for four years. He's been real supportive of the Annapolis Police Department. It was an excellent choice for the county executive," he said.
George Johnson, who commanded the county department's robbery unit before he was elected sheriff in November, was on an early-morning roundup of probation violators and those delinquent in child support payments when he heard of Chief Beck's appointment.
"It's a good choice," Sheriff Johnson said. "He's got a lot of good ideas, and it shows there are capable people right in the department."
Chief Beck received a bachelor of science degree in management and technology from the University of Maryland in 1991 and expects to complete work on a master's degree in applied behavioral science from the Police Executive Leadership Program at the Johns Hopkins University in May 1996.
The Baltimore native -- his parents came from Pennsylvania to find work during World War II and "never left" -- graduated from Andover High in 1963, about four years after his family moved to Ferndale.
He joined the Army in 1964 and served in an intelligence unit in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967. After his discharge, he worked for a few months at Montgomery Ward before joining the county police force in 1968.
"It's something that I'd always wanted to do," he said. "Look back in the high school yearbook, and that's what it would say. I never imagined I'd rise to occupy the chief's position."
His ascension through the ranks included stints in the criminal investigation division's polygraph unit and command of the crime prevention section, but the experience that best prepared him to become chief was his promotion to captain and subsequent assignment as superintendent of the Anne Arundel County Detention Center when it was under police control.
"As soon as I got promoted to captain, I went to jail," Chief Beck said.
The job required him to do "the kinds of things I had to do [to be] a pseudo-department head on my own," he said.
The new chief said that he wants to continue community policing efforts and that ethics will be "the cornerstone of my administration."
He will have "zero tolerance" for deliberate police misconduct, he said.