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Leopold keeps security detail

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, who has moved to cut spending in his first two weeks in office, plans to continue using a police security detail that costs at least $125,000 a year and that drew criticism during the fall campaign.

Leopold, a former state delegate known for knocking on thousands of doors and waving campaign signs from the sides of county roads, took a skeptical stance during the fall campaign toward keeping a security detail that cost an estimated $1 million during the eight-year tenure of Democrat Janet S. Owens.

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But after taking office, Leopold said he was persuaded by the outgoing police chief, P. Thomas Shanahan, and the incoming chief, James Teare Sr., to continue using police officers to drive him and provide protection.

"Frankly, I have wrestled with it," Leopold said, but he ultimately deferred to the judgment of his police commanders.

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"I have an obligation to the citizens of the county to follow the advice of the experts," Leopold said. "It's no longer about what John Leopold wants. It's what the police say County Executive Leopold should do."

Leopold's decision illustrates the debate over what level of security is required for public officials in the post-9/11 world, and whether some county executives in Maryland require more police protection than most U.S. senators and representatives.

"It's an excess for the county executive to have continued coverage," said Tom Angelis, a former sergeant in the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington and a Republican who has run twice for Anne Arundel county executive. "We need to put people back on the street."

Security experts and police officials say with such details, officials can be relocated quickly to respond to disasters, such as a terrorist attack.

"It's a trend throughout the country," said Gerald A. Cavis, a former U.S. Secret Service agent who is a security consultant and instructor. "It's the recommended way to go to ensure the continuity of government."

Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's are among the suburban counties that provide security for their executives. Baltimore's mayor and Maryland's governor have long had round-the-clock police protection.

Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler declined to discuss specifics about the security detail of County Executive James T. Smith Jr. Montgomery County provides a security detail for new County Executive Isiah Leggett through its homeland security department, county spokeswoman Donna Bigler said.

Not all county executives have a security detail. Harford County's executive, David R. Craig, generally drives himself to events, said Aaron Tomarchio, Craig's chief of staff. Tomarchio said the last time Craig had security protection was for his inauguration.

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"While it's an important job, [a security detail is] something that hasn't crossed his mind," Tomarchio said.

In Howard County, James N. Robey, who stepped down this month as county executive, drove himself to many events in a Ford Explorer. But county police were deployed to follow him to certain events, said William J. McMahon, the Howard County police chief. McMahon said that new County Executive Ken Ulman is evaluating an appropriate level of protection.

"It's not as elaborate as you would see from Baltimore City," McMahon said.

The security detail for Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's public events numbers about a dozen. He plans to use his city police security detail rather than rely solely on the Maryland State Police at least through his transition as governor, The Sun has reported.

Leopold's predecessor, Owens, began receiving police protection after she was elected in 1998. Owens had said that she and her family had received threats during the campaign.

Owens was typically picked up each morning at her Millersville home and taken to her Annapolis office at the Arundel Center and most public events. She was dropped back home each night. According to Anne Arundel records, three county cars used by Owens logged more than 285,000 miles in eight years.

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During her 2002 campaign, Republican candidates Phillip D. Bissett and Angelis sharply criticized Owens' use of the police security detail.

During the executive's primary campaign this year, none of the five Republicans -- including Leopold -- said he would keep the detail. But within days of Leopold's victory last month, Shanahan wrote a memo imploring him to keep "this very important service."

"The world we live in today requires us to take appropriate notice and precaution," Shanahan wrote.

The four members of Leopold's security detail -- one sergeant and three detectives -- work out of the county Police Department's Intelligence Unit, which investigates hate crimes and gang activity. All served in Owens' detail and have specialized security training, said Lt. David D. Waltemeyer Jr., a police spokesman. They split their duties between monitoring Leopold and performing investigations in the unit.

That unit also provides security when threats are made against county officials, Waltemeyer said, such as those made in 2000 against then-schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham or in 2002 against a County Council member and her family.

Angelis said that county police should not hesitate to dispatch security to protect officials who are the target of legitimate threats, but he said that Leopold "needs to re-evaluate his position" about a general security detail.

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"Look at all kinds of government officials, including U.S. senators and congressmen, which have far more power than a county executive, and they are not guarded," Angelis said. "I do not believe this is a wise expenditure of money."

Others, such as former Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary, were less skeptical.

"It's a different atmosphere here today," said Gary, who did not have all-day police protection during his tenure from 1994 to 1998. "I think there's a lot more danger out there, whether we like it or not."

As the most visible face of a county government that represents about 510,000 people, Leopold is a potential target for disgruntled employees and angry constituents, county and police officials said. They also point to heightened security concerns in the Baltimore-Washington region since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Waltemeyer said changes to the size and use of Leopold's detail "will be forthcoming." Those decisions, the police spokesman said, are left to the executive.

Waltemeyer noted that the service enables Leopold, as a passenger, to safely conduct business from the road, rather than trying to field phone calls and e-mail while driving.

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But, Waltemeyer added: "The emphasis is on safety, not convenience."

The president of the Anne Arundel County police union said he understands the value of protecting Leopold and freeing him up to work on other duties when traveling around the county, but said the county needs more patrol officers, too. The 680-member department is down by at least 30 officers.

"The Police Department could certainly use the manpower in patrol, so from that perspective we wouldn't support it," said O'Brien Atkinson IV, president of the county police union.

Still, several County Council members backed Leopold's decision, saying it was a wise use of county funds.

The executive's move to keep the detail comes as he has imposed a hiring freeze that will affect at least 200 nonpublic safety jobs and cut nearly $1 million through a Cabinet restructuring.

Councilman G. James "Jamie" Benoit, a Piney Orchard Democrat, said, "I think it's in the county's best interest that he's safe and uses his time efficiently."

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phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Larry Carson contributed to this article.


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