Baltimore Co. police install a new chief Gambrill to follow in Behan's footsteps

September 21, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

Baltimore County's newest police chief took his oath of office yesterday in Towson, promising not only to uphold the Constitution and the laws of Maryland, but also to keep the department on the same, successful course begun by his predecessor, Cornelius J. Behan.

Chief Behan stepped down yesterday after 16 years as Baltimore County's top cop. He turned the $83,000-a-year job over to Michael D. Gambrill, a man who prospered in the professionalism that Behan brought to the police force.

Chief Gambrill, 50, said he wants to follow in Chief Behan's footsteps and leave a legacy of success for his successor.

"I have mixed feelings about leaving the agency," said Chief Behan. "But I'm delighted I've left it in such good hands."

Chief Gambrill, son of a steel worker, graduate of Calvert Hall College, joined the force in November 1961 as a cadet. He began working his way up the ranks and was a sergeant when Chief Behan took office.

He was assigned to a patrol car in Essex, as well as the arson and homicide investigative units, before moving into higher ranks. Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, D-3rd, the chairman of the County Council, recalled when he was a county prosecutor working cases with Mr. Gambrill.

Back then, in the mid-1970s, Mr. Gambrill worked for the M-Squad, a group of police investigators who worked on only the biggest cases, said Mr. Ruppersberger. Mr. Gambrill was a tenacious, savvy investigator who was always prepared.

"Mike was probably one of the hardest working, most competent, most focused officers I worked with," said Mr. Ruppersberger. "He's a cop's cop. That's probably one of the best things you can say about him."

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden praised Chief Behan for "transforming" the department into a crime-prevention force, as well as a crime-fighting force. He called Chief Gambrill a good replacement.

"We are most fortunate to have one of his high caliber to assume the leadership of the Baltimore County Police Department," said Mr. Hayden.

After taking the oath yesterday, Chief Gambrill received a sustained ovation from a crowd of police officers, politicians, friends and family at the auditorium of Calvert Hall -- from which Chief Gambrill graduated in 1960.

"He was a good student, a very quiet boy," said Brother Gabriel Cannon, 84, Chief Gambrill's high school principal. "He was never in any trouble and he got along with all the other students."

In taking over the department, Chief Gambrill said, he has no blueprint for change, so he spent his time yesterday talking about himself and what he believes in "to give you a sense of myself."

"First, I believe in God, a supreme being," said Chief Gambrill. "We're here for only a short time, and we'll be held accountable for our actions."

The new chief said he believes in the U.S. Constitution and feels the freedoms it grants makes law enforcement more challenging. "Policing in a democratic society is the most difficult policing in the world" but it's worth it, he said.

He reiterated his commitment to community policing and the decentralization of management, giving precinct commanders the authority to run their posts the way they think best. "We want [our officers] to be a part of, and not apart from, the community," said Chief Gambrill.

He acknowledged the escalation of violence and crime in society and suggested two ideas for reversing the trend. First, he said, is to aggressively pursue repeat offenders, getting them off the street. Second, he said, is to spend more time and effort working with children through programs like the Police Athletic League, or PAL.

Chief Behan announced his retirement in March, but stayed on until yesterday to help the new chief with the transition. And, although he's no longer the chief, Mr. Behan will still have an office at police headquarters in Towson.

During his tenure, Chief Behan became an internationally recognized figure on gun-control issues, and he improved methods of policing. He said he will use the office space to do research and other work for national organizations such as the Police Executive Research Forum and the Major City Chiefs Organization.

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