Howard Co. executive dismisses police chief

December 20, 1990|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

Howard County Police Chief Frederick W. Chaney, who brought many modern changes to the department but had been criticized for its community relations, was fired yesterday by the new county executive.

"The police chief serves at the pleasure of the executive, and I thought it best to make a change," said Charles I. Ecker, who followed the tradition of previous executives in dismissing the chief.

"I wanted my own appointee in there," he said.

Chief Chaney, 53, had been a major with the Montgomery County Police Department when former Executive Elizabeth Bobo made him police chief in August 1987.

He will be replaced before Feb. 1, Mr. Ecker said.

During Chief Chaney's tenure, the department joined an increasing number of police forces across the nation in switching to 9mm semiautomatic pistols and began a drug education program for schoolchildren known as DARE.

Chief Chaney also created special units to combat drug trafficking on the streets and the illegal dealing of prescription drugs and to investigate child abuse, established foot patrols and adopted a "zero tolerance" policy for drunken drivers and drug abusers.

But during the past year, county police officers came under fire repeatedly for the way they dealt with the community.

In January, several young men from Columbia accused the police of roughing them up while breaking up a party -- a case that generated even more controversy when one of the men later was found hanged behind a neighborhood school. His death was ruled a suicide.

A grand jury found no evidence of criminal misconduct by police, but the department has filed disciplinary charges against two officers in the party incident.

Then the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gave the county its "Dirty Harry Award," ranking it among the five worst jurisdictions in the state for police brutality.

And later, two Laurel families claimed that they were terrorized by masked county officers who burst into their homes early in the morning on a drug raid that failed to produce any narcotics.

Chief Chaney maintained that the department was getting a bum rap and had a good record of community relations.

Mr. Ecker said soon after taking office that he would appoint a task force to study ways to improve the department because "there is the perception by some members of the public that something is not right."

Chief Chaney said he accepted his firing "as a political decision."

"I was not totally shocked because I got the feeling from the transition team that there would be a change," Chief Chaney said, adding that he was proud of what he had accomplished.

He said Mr. Ecker is allowing him to remain in the post until March 1.

Mr. Ecker said he will look "inside and outside the department for a new chief who will relate well with the public and police personnel."

Considered to be among the local candidates for the post are Maj. James N. Robey and a former county police lieutenant, Garth Davis.

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