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Inspector license policies revised

The Baltimore Sun

The Maryland State Police have established policies for the revocation of vehicle inspectors' licenses after questions arose over allowing a Prince George's County station to resume operations despite accusations that it had approved vehicles that mechanics had not inspected.

In a memo to all inspection station personnel last week, the Automotive Safety Enforcement Division outlined a standardized guide for administering penalties for violations and for license reinstatement procedures. The new guidelines would be an "effective tool" to ensure that licenses "are being administered impartially and consistently throughout the state," the memo said.

Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, the superintendent of the state police, ordered the new policies in response to a flap over a Capitol Heights inspection station that lost its license in May 2003. The license was reinstated this year over the objections of a state police commander who oversaw the inspections program and alleged that political pressure had prompted the reinstatement. The Washington Post first reported the allegations.

The license of the station, Hilltop Fleet Services, was revoked over charges that it issued inspection tickets for vehicles that weren't inspected, Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said.

State Sen. Nathaniel Exum, a Prince George's County Democrat, contacted Gov. Martin O'Malley's office on behalf of Hilltop Fleet Services. O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said Exum raised the issue with the governor's staff, who referred the matter to Sheridan.

Exum, who opposed Sheridan's confirmation this year over concerns that the state police agency needs to do more to promote minorities, characterized the contacts he made for Hilltop as innocuous. "I reached out to help them, as I do all constituents who ask me for help," the senator said.

James L. Wilson, a Hilltop owner, declined to comment.

Shipley said that state police were not instructed by the governor's office to issue the license to Hilltop. He said the station went through the process for reinstatement, including a requirement that its mechanics pass certain tests.

The licenses of seven other inspection stations have been reinstated in recent years, including some cases in which the stations approved cars that they did not inspect. The new policies were issued after Hilltop got its license back.

"In order for people to play by the rules, we have to set them," Shipley said. "This isn't something that should be arbitrary."

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