Baltimore County to conduct national search for new police chief

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., who was sworn into office this week, said Wednesday that he intends to retain current police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan for six months while he conducts a national search for a replacement.

Sheridan has led the department since January 2017, when former County Executive Kevin Kamenetz pushed out then-chief Jim Johnson.

Sheridan also served as county police chief from 1996 to 2007 and was superintendent of the Maryland State Police from 2007 until 2011. In his 70s and having already retired twice before, few expected Sheridan to stay on through Olszewki’s term.

“Chief Sheridan is a first-class public safety professional who is well-respected by his officers and the community,” Olszewski, a Democrat, said in a statement. He said Sheridan will stay on as chief “as we take the time to select someone to replace him who will maintain the same high standards of service to our constituents.”

Further details of the police chief search were not made available Wednesday. The Olszewski administration would not say whether a private firm would be hired to handle the search.

The police force for Maryland’s third largest county patrols a sprawling area that stretches from the Pennsylvania line around both sides of Baltimore City to the Patapsco River. The department has an authorized total of 1,914 officers, but about 45 vacancies. A recruit class is expected to graduate this month.

The Police Executive Research Forum, an organization in Washington that played an advisory role in the Baltimore City search for a police commissioner that produced nominee Joel Fitzgerald, is not involved in the county’s search, according to a spokesman. Fitzgerald is awaiting confirmation by the Baltimore City Council.

Leaders of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, which represents county officers, are hopeful for a role in the search process.

“Let’s make sure it’s a thought-out process,” said Cole B. Weston, president of the FOP lodge.

While the last few chiefs have been home-grown, the county has done a national search before, according to Weston.

Cornelius J. Behan was hired by the county in 1977 to professionalize the department. He became known as an expert in community policing and a leader on handgun control before retiring in 1993.

“Behan came from New York, that search resulted in a progressive and thoughtful individual,” Weston said.

Weston said he hopes the county’s next chief will address issues such as recruitment and ever-changing technology, and should provide confidence to officers and understand the challenges they face in the field.

“It’s a great idea to see who’s out there, who would want to come to this jurisdiction,” Weston said of the search.

Some members of the Baltimore County Council — who will confirm the new chief — believe a replacement could be found within the department.

“I think there’s good talent within Baltimore County, but it doesn’t hurt to throw out a wider net to see that we can get the best professional possible for the position,” said Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican.

Councilman Tom Quirk said he hopes Olszewski considers hiring back — or at least consulting — Johnson. Quirk, an Oella Democrat, said the next chief should “have really solid community relations skills and be able to work effectively with community groups and citizens.”

Council Chairman Julian Jones said he didn’t think a national search was necessary.

“I hope that it does not mean that the people here would somehow be disqualified from being considered for the position,” said Jones, a Woodstock Democrat.

Jones said an outside pick only makes sense for a police department “in dire need of change” or experiencing “significant dysfunction” — neither of which is the case in Baltimore County, he said.

Yet some believe significant change is needed. In recent years, the department has come under criticism, particularly for its handling of reported sexual assaults and deadly encounters between mentally ill subjects and police.

Most notably, 23-year-old Korryn Gaines was fatally shot by a county officer in her Randallstown apartment in 2016, following an hours-long armed standoff. The officer involved was cleared of wrongdoing by police and prosecutors, but a county jury awarded Gaines’ family more than $38 million damages in a civil lawsuit. The county has appealed that award.

“I would like to see the type of police chief who ascribes to constitutional policing, who is sensitive to persons with disabilities, both physical and mental,” said J. Wyndal Gordon, an attorney who represented Gaines’ family.

Gordon said he felt that the tenure of former chief Johnson was a “disaster.”

“There was a lack of tolerance that seemed to be exhibited by his officers,” Gordon said. “It appeared to come from the top down.”

Gordon urged the county to involve the community in the search for a new chief. “The folks in Baltimore County don’t want to be left out of the process,” he said.

Another key issue facing the department is how it handles investigations of sexual assaults. County police were sued this fall by UMBC students who alleged that officers did not properly investigate reports of rape and sexual assault. The women also sued the university, the state’s attorney and others for their roles in intimidating them and covering up their complaints, according to their lawsuit.

The county government recently hired private attorneys at a cost of up to $600,000 to help defend the case.

The new chief also will need to deal with community concerns over whether there is an uptick in crime in the county.

In 2017, the county experienced a 14.5 percent increase in serious violent crimes over the previous year, driven by more robberies and aggravated assaults. But for the first six months of 2018, the county was saw a 7 percent drop in violent crime compared to the same period the year before.

The county had 35 homicides in 2017, and 12 through the first six months of 2018.

County residents also have concerns about juvenile crime, highlighted by the May death of Officer Amy Caprio, who was fatally struck by a Jeep while she was investigating a possible burglary in Perry Hall. Four teens have been charged in her death and are awaiting trial.

Olszewski also announced that he’s keeping on several department directors who served under former county executives Don Mohler and Kevin Kamenetz, including:

» Keith Dorsey, director of the Office of Budget and Finance.

» Gail Watts, director of the Department of Corrections.

» Michael Field, county attorney.

» Will Anderson, director of the Department of Economic and Workforce Development.

» Dr. Gregory Branch, director of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Social Services.

» Steve Walsh, director of the Department of Public Works.

» Barry Williams, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks.

» Robert W. O’Connor, director of the Office of Information Technology.

Olszewski also announced the appointment of Laura D. Riley as director of the Department of Aging. The prior director, Joanne Williams, retired last month.

And he announced David Lykens as acting director of the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability. That department had been led by Vince Gardina, a former councilman and Kamenetz ally.

Olszewski has not announced whether he will retain or replace other key department directors, including:

» George Gay of the Office of Human Resources.

» Arnold Jablon, director of the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections.

» Andrea Van Arsdale, director of the Department of Planning.

» Fire Chief Kyrle Preis.

The position of county administrative officer, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the government, remains open. Olszewski pushed the longtime county administrative officer, Fred Homan, into retirement.

All appointments of department directors and public safety chiefs are subject to confirmation by the Baltimore County Council.

pwood@baltsun.com

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