Ecker wants 'a people person' to replace fired police chief

December 20, 1990|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

A story in Thursday's Evening Sun about the Howard County police chief's dismissal incorrectly referred to the nature of charges against three county police officers. The officers were charged with excessive force while making an arrest at a loud party at a Jessup motel last January.

The Evening Sun regrets the error.

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker says he's looking for a police chief who not only has the appropriate experience but also is "a people person" who can operate with ease in the community and with other county officials.

Ecker made those observations yesterday after he fired embattled Police Chief Frederick W. Chaney. He said he acted because the police department has poor management, lacks leadership and suffers from a poor image.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"It's just a feeling I have. I feel we need a different police chief," Ecker said.

Ecker said he asked Chaney for his resignation as head of the 300-member force during a meeting yesterday. The move by the new county executive was his second firing of a Cabinet-level officer since his Dec. 3 inauguration. Two weeks ago, he fired the county planning director.

Chaney, a 32-year law enforcement veteran, said in a statement that he will leave the department by March 1. He has been chief since July 1987.

Ecker said he has not decided whether to hire the next chief from within the police department or from outside. He said he has received about a dozen applications for the position as speculation surfaced that he would hire his own chief.

He said that a report from his transition team said the police department had poor management and leadership.

Ecker said he had "agonized" over his decision and that the numerous calls and letters advising him on Chaney were about evenly split between keeping or removing the chief.

He said one factor that helped him decide was the controversy that erupted after the bizarre death of 20-year-old Carl Jonathan Bowie, a Columbia man whose body was found hanging from the baseball backstop outside Oakland Mills High School last May.

Five months earlier, Bowie and his twin brother, Mickey, had filed charges of brutality against three county police officers. His death brought rumors and allegations from his Columbia community that police were in some way responsible.

Some Columbia residents sharply criticized the department, although Chaney initiated an investigation into the hanging, which resulted in administrative charges of excessive force against three officers. Those charges are still pending.

"I think we have a good police force, but there's a perception out there in some parts of the community that police are not doing a good job," Ecker said.

Chaney was hit on another front by the Howard County Police Officers Association, which scolded the chief for failing to stand behind his officers during the Bowie incident.

The association, which also is suing the department for what it alleges are unfair promotion practices, welcomed Chaney's removal.

"I've been here seven years and I have never seen morale lower than it has been in the last year," said Officer Dale Hill, president of the organization, which represents officers in contract negotiations and other matters. "I don't think he was personnel-oriented. I understand that his position is very political, but he has to be a police officer first."

Chaney, according to a statement released by the police department's public information office, is "leaving office with a feeling of great satisfaction with the many accomplishments" in his three years.

He noted in the statement that the department gained recognition from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies under his tenure last July, which means it meets nationally established standards for police operations.

Chaney in the statement noted that he has added 52 officers and 23 civilians since his appointment by then-Executive Elizabeth Bobo, that he has created child-abuse and street-drug sections and has initiated a random drug-testing program for officers.

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