Delays in promotions in the Anne Arundel County Police Department brought on by a challenge to promotional tests are forcing lower-ranking officers to continue filling in as supervisors and damaging morale, police officials say.
In the summer, Chief Robert A. Beck told county Executive John G. Gary the vacancies in supervisory positions "could be detrimental to the operations of the department," according to minutes of a command staff meeting.
Chief Beck, who was out of town last week, has consistently referred questions on the testing and promotions problems to the county personnel office.
Last week, officers complained about morale problems stemming from the delay in promotions.
"Morale is at rock bottom," said one supervisor, who asked not to be named.
The lack of permanent leadership "puts the department in a stagnant mode because you can't do any real planning for the future because you don't know who's going to be there," he said.
Several officers, including two deputy chiefs and one captain, have been in acting supervisory positions for months.
Those officers' acting promotions have left lower supervisory positions vacant, requiring more officers to fill in at positions higher than their rank.
And even more vacancies are likely because several other supervising officers are expected to retire this year. By the end of the year, positions for two deputy chiefs, three captains, six lieutenants and eight to 10 sergeants will be vacant, officials say.
Promotions have been delayed since spring when two officers and a sergeant alleged that a lieutenant sold test answers.
Three review agencies cleared the lieutenant, but the county personnel board ruled this month that the testing process was tainted and ordered that the test results for the sergeants be thrown out and the test repeated. The test results for lieutenants were allowed to stand.
"For long-term stability in the department, you don't want people in acting postions for a long time. You might be reluctant to exert a strategy that may go longer than your tenure," said Robert P. Russell, who retired in November as police chief to become a security company executive.
The lack of permanent leadership also strains relations among officers, said Ted LeMay, a program specialist for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
"It creates hardship on the work force," he said. "The person in that position knows his position is only on a temporary status. It makes it hard for good supervision to take place."
If officers "know the boss is going to be gone in three months, [they] might react to him a little differently" than if he were permanent, Mr. Russell said.
Officers in the department agreed.
"If I'm a sergeant and I tell you to do something, you better do it," said a supervisor who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But if I'm an acting sergeant and I tell you to do something and you don't do it, am I going to take disciplinary action against you knowing that I'm going to revert to being a patrolman again?"
He said the morale problems also could affect the way an officer does the job in the community.
"You can't expect a guy to get out there and work real hard and hustle when he feels he's been deceived by the police department," he said. "They just develop a mistrust for the system."