Behan retiring today

March 16, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson and Larry Carson | Robert A. Erlandson and Larry Carson,Staff Writers

Cornelius J. Behan, the New York cop who was hired in 1977 to reorganize and professionalize the Baltimore County Police Department, will announce his retirement today.

Chief Behan, 68, served 31 years with the New York Police Department, rising from patrolman to chief of field services, before being hired by County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis after a nationwide search for a replacement for Chief Joseph Gallen.

Sources said Col. Michael Gambrill, the chief of field operations for the county department, was considered Chief Behan's likely successor. Chief Behan is not expected to leave the county force for several months.

County Executive Roger B. Hayden scheduled a press conference today to make the announcement. Chief Behan was not available for comment last night and E. Jay Miller, department spokesman, refused to comment on the report, subsequently confirmed by other sources.

During his tenure in the county, Chief Behan achieved a national reputation among law enforcement officers. He is considered an expert on community policing and a leader in the handgun control movement.

On the local level, he commanded an unusual degree of respect from a succession of political leaders. Last May, he appeared before a County Council beset by budget problems and bluntly told the council that proposed police cuts were forcing him to cannibalize his department, pushing it to the point where it was "on the brink of slipping into mediocrity."

The lanky, gray-haired chief noted it was his 16th appearance before the council but that "this is the first time I've felt I should report on the state of the department." His credibility was such that in a highly unusual move, the council restored most of the proposed budget cut.

Last year, he was elected to a second five-year term as president of the National Executive Institute. He is a former president of the Police Executive Research Forum and the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association.

Chief Behan has also become a national spokesman for gun control on behalf of police officers and has been vilified by pro-gun groups trying to force his ouster.

During one particularly vicious anti-Behan campaign, County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson publicly stood by his chief and reappointed him. County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen and Mr. Hayden, the incumbent executive, also reappointed him.

Chief Behan's retirement has been rumored periodically for several years but each time he remained on the job. This time, however, sources said, he has been preparing his announcement for some time.

Last night, Mr. Venetoulis said he and Chief Behan held a secret dinner meeting at the Pikesville Hilton Hotel during the search that eventually led to the chief's coming to Baltimore County in 1977.

"We hit it off immediately. He was a solid old-line police guy, just what you wanted for a conservative department like Baltimore County," Mr. Venetoulis said. And best of all, he said, Chief Behan had the professional credentials to more than qualify him for the position.

When Chief Behan, a proud Irish-American who is known as Neil, arrived in Towson, he faced a department in disarray and torn by factional in-fighting. He brought impressive administrative skills and began to modernize the department, training a cadre of up-and-coming officers who moved into the top ranks.

Under Chief Behan, the county's police department became the first large department in the United States to win national accreditation based on nearly 1,000 different criteria judged by law-enforcement officers throughout the country.

In 1990, he received the Police Executive Research Forum Leadership Award. Last June the FBI made him the first recipient of the John M. Penrith Award for excellence in law enforcement administration.

Chief Behan's extensive and diverse background made him a frequent spokesman and lecturer on community policing, BTC modern police management, values and ethics. His articles and essays on these and other law-enforcement topics have been published in professional journals and books.

During his tenure, Baltimore County continued its evolution from a largely rural past into a regional center of industry and retailing. Places like Essex and Catonsville, and particularly Towson, the county seat, began to feel the urban pressures pushing outward from Baltimore city.

Chief Behan responded by establishing programs to make the 1,500-member police force more efficient and able to cope with changing problems. Many of those programs won awards for their general benefit to law enforcement.

One major efforts was the Community Oriented Police Enforcement, known as COPE, in which police officers move into neighborhoods beset by problems, particularly murders or burglaries. The COPE officers first focus on reducing residents' fear, then analyze what causes crime and try to do something about it.

He also introduced programs on community oriented drug enforcement and reducing recidivism among repeat offenders.

Mr. Venetoulis attributes Chief Behan's longevity to his personal and professional qualities.

"He is truly a civil servant," said Mr. Venetoulis, who said the chief has survived "without a single major scandal or controversy in his department."

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