Michael C. Zotos, who takes command of the Aberdeen Police Department June 19, said his new job as police chief really began when he applied for the post and walked around the streets to "get a feel for what people are thinking."
Mr. Zotos said he has done a lot of walking and talking since that cold January day. He has concluded that law enforcement problems in Aberdeen are the same as in almost any town in the United States.
"I was interviewed by a panel of about a dozen community leaders and then by the mayor and City Council, and they mainly wanted to know what thoughts I had about crime and crime prevention," he said.
Mr. Zotos, 62, knows about both, having retired as deputy commissioner last June after nearly 35 years with the Baltimore City Police Department.
"If I knew how to prevent crime, I could market the answer across the country," he said. "But you can minimize it and be aware, for example, that Aberdeen sits on a natural roadway for narcotics trafficking.
"[Drugs are] a growing problem we all must deal with," Mr. Zotos said. "In 1972, we made 700 drug arrests in Baltimore City, and we made more than 15,000 drug arrests last year."
Gary McLhinney, who heads the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police lodge and lives in Harford County, said he could not pTC think of a more qualified man to head the Aberdeen Police Department.
"I've had dealings with Mike Zotos for about 10 years and always found him to be firm but fair," Mr. McLhinney said. "He came up through the ranks and had the respect of the men and women on the street."
The new chief said he will rely on his experience to do whatever needs to be done. He has first-hand knowledge in tactical training, community services, community relations, youth services, personnel, internal investigation, fiscal planning, central records, communications and executive protection -- all units that he supervised as deputy police commissioner in Baltimore City.
The new chief's extensive experience is "a given," Peter A. Dacey, Aberdeen's city manager, said.
"Read his resume and you can tell that he has seen it all, and done most of it.
"He's also very personable," Mr. Dacey said. "Everyone, city officials, citizens, businessmen, police officers, they all were impressed at how he seems to have a deep understanding of what a police officer has to do on the job and of how citizens expect to be treated by police officers."
Mr. Zotos said he does not expect to make wholesale changes at first.
"I want to look at the department, evaluate it and decide what needs to be done," he said. "Aberdeen seems like a nice little community and, from what I have seen and heard, has a fairly good police department."
Mr. Zotos served as president of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association in 1991. He said he is well aware of the cooperation between agencies, especially in Harford County where municipal officers from Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace regularly assist -- and are assisted by -- sheriff's deputies and state troopers.
He said he also knows he will not have his new job for a lot of years.
"I'm sort of like the NFL coach who says he wants three to five years to do what needs to be done," he said. "Some things may require immediate attention, but I'm also into planning. I want to help lay the groundwork that will send the department into the 21st century."
Mr. Zotos replaces John R. Jolley, who headed the department from 1989 until Jan. 2 when he resigned. Capt. Charles Lawson, who has served as acting chief since Mr. Jolley resigned, was named deputy chief under Mr. Zotos, effective June 19.