Harold Robbins began a crash course in the Annapolis Police Department last Monday, and by week's end, city officers were hopeful the new police chief could reunite their troubled department.
"He's got a lot of good ideas, and he's made a very positive impression," Sgt. John Mellon, a former union leader, said. "If he's got the backing of the city, he could turn this place around overnight. The problems are not unsolvable."
While most officers said it's too early to tell what effect the new chief will have on the department, the early enthusiasm seemed a marked contrast from the mood under former Chief John C. Schmitt, who retired in May amid charges of mismanagement and racism. Schmitt denied the charges.
"So far, the new chief sounds great, and I'm looking forward to some positive changes," Sgt. Robert E. Beans, the former head of the Black Officers Association, said.
Beans and Officer Chandler Powell faced charges last spring that their unit, the now-defunct Delta Force drug squad, broke departmental rules.
Ironically, the investigation into Delta Force began when Beans charged white officers with racism and racial sabotage.
A police trial board dismissed charges against Beans last spring, and charges against Powell were subsequently dropped. But many black city residents were outraged over the treatment of the two black officers.
Members of the Black Political Forum, one of the groups most critical of Schmitt, are hopeful that Robbins will improve race relations in the department. "I think the prudent thing would be to give the new chief of police the benefit of the doubt and give him every opportunity to show what he can do," the Rev. Ricky Spain, vice president of the forum and a member of the county United Black Clergy, said.
Robbins, 43, met with most of the department's 116 officers last week, sitting down with many officers individually to discuss specific concerns.
He worked 12-hour days and said he could count the number of meals he had had on one hand.
"He's working horrendous hours and putting in the kind of effort that's needed over there," City Administrator Michael Mallinoff said. "In the short period he's been here, he's been the type of guy we thought he would be -- meticulous and hard-working."
Robbins said that changes are in store for the department but that he wants more time to study the department and talk with city officials before saying what they are. "I see a lot of changes coming," he said. "Some will be gradual, some will be implemented over time, some will come with an infusion of money from the city."
Money is what will be on Robbins' mind most in the coming weeks -- he must present his first budget to the city administration in two weeks.
Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins has ordered 3.6 percent cuts in all departmental budgets to meet declining revenues. Robbins' budget is the only one that may escape the cuts, Mallinoff said.
"I think the Police Department's been neglected over the last few years," he said. "We want to make that department a showcase and get it accredited."
The department has never gotten the accreditation seal of approval from four national law-enforcement organizations.
Robbins, a deputy chief in St. Petersburg, Fla., before coming to Annapolis, has made winning accreditation a priority To do so, the department will have to meet more than 900 standards in such areas as recruitment, training, discipline, internal affairs, information gathering and utilization and minority recruitment and promotions.
Black community leaders will be watching what Robbins and the city administration do with a proposed deputy chief position. The Hopkins-appointed Police-Minority Community Relations Board supports hiring a minority deputy chief.
When Hopkins proposed the position in February, he suggested that a black officer might fill it. Recently, however, the mayor backed away from that commitment. Mallinoff said Robbins will have a say in that decision.
"I think the deputy chief is something the mayor still supports." he said, "But our first priority is not who's going to be deputy chief, but getting the new chief off and running."
Robbins said he hasn't had time to decide what his personnel needs are.
He said of the deputy chief's position: "We'll weigh that against other needs."