State Police shake-up

April 20, 1992

In searching for a new superintendent for the Maryland State Police, Gov. William Donald Schaefer ought to be looking for more than just a competent law-enforcement leader. He needs someone who will come in and shake up this cliquish organization and give it a more focused, and relevant, role.

The State Police has yet to figure out what its goal in life ought to be. Should it concentrate on patrolling the highways? Should it limit its duties to serving as "the law" in rural parts of Maryland? Or should it become more of a Maryland version of the FBI, helping local police departments fight crime and waging cross-jurisdictional offensives against criminal elements?

The current superintendent, Elmer H. Tippett Jr., resigned effective June 1 under pressure from the governor and public safety secretary Bishop L. Robinson. He had lost the confidence of the governor last fall when hundreds of uniformed state troopers marched on Annapolis and intimidated legislators by sitting in the State House galleries, with their guns in their holsters, while lawmakers debated a bill to cut State Police manpower.

Governor Schaefer's discontent with Mr. Tippett grew after the Dontay Carter case, in which the alleged killer twice slipped through State Police hands. It was a clear case of bungled law-enforcement work.

A short time later, Mr. Tippett decided to jump ship rather than walk the plank.

For decades, the State Police has been an incestuous, good old boys' enclave that defied attempts at reforms. The next superintendent will have to "chop people's heads off," as one official put it, to clear away dead wood and get the agency in good organizational shape. Political influence within the agency, especially on promotions, must be greatly reduced. And the new police chief has to have a free hand to reorient the agency toward crime-fighting and community involvement.

Would an insider be able to make the necessary changes, or would he favor his old friends and cronies? Would an outsider more easily shake things up, or would he risk damaging morale and alienating those in the ranks? These are not easy questions to answer. One thing's for sure: The next police superintendent will require a mandate and unwavering support from the governor to make these sweeping changes and to narrow the agency's focus. Maryland needs a revived and strengthened State Police.

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