Annapolis police chief quits post

April 19, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

Harold M. "Hal" Robbins Jr., Annapolis' police chief since October 1990, has resigned abruptly, leaving his deputy as the likely successor to head the 123-member department.

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins said yesterday that the chief submitted a letter of resignation Friday stating he wanted to "pursue other interests." But the mayor said the decision that the chief should go was "mutual."

The chief notified his officers of his departure by posting a note on a bulletin board. Yesterday he was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Mr. Hopkins said Chief Robbins will go on administrative leave when he returns from vacation. He will continue to draw his $72,000-a-year salary until he finds a new job or until Dec. 9 -- a year before his five-year contract expires.

The mayor said that after Dec. 9 he intends to ask the City Council to appoint Deputy Chief Joseph S. Johnson, 51, as chief.

Deputy Chief Johnson, who has held his post since March 1991 and was one of six finalists for the chief's job before Chief Robbins was hired, is a 23-year-veteran of the Baltimore Police Department and lifelong resident of the Annapolis area.

If appointed, he would be the city's first black police chief.

"I think Johnson is the right person at the right time," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Democrat representing Ward 5. Deputy Chief Johnson's appointment would show how far the city has come since 1984, when it entered an agreement with the federal government to increase minorities on the force, Mr. Snowden said.

Alderman Theresa DeGraff, a Republican representing Ward 7 and head of the council's public safety committee, said Deputy Chief Johnson has a knack of geting along well with everyone. "I think he's wonderful," she said.

But like Chief Robbins, he takes over a department beset by high turnover and low morale.

"I want to stem the tidal wave of officers leaving this agency for the county and other agencies," he said. "My job will be to sell the officers on the virtues of working with the city."

Chief Robbins' resignation had been rumored for some time, but Mr. Hopkins said he first talked to him about it two weeks ago and received the letter only Friday. "He has satisfied what I expected of him when he was hired," the mayor said. "I would hire him again."

Mr. Hopkins cited a number of improvements under the chief's administration, including better equipment, more minority hiring, additional money for training and improved relations with the community.

"I always thought he did a great job," said Ms. DeGraff. Although she said she didn't know about the chief's resignation until an officer told her on Sunday, she said she'd heard rumors about it for several months.

"I'd heard rumblings from Al Hopkins that he wanted to make a change," she said.

Chief Robbins, 46, was selected in September 1990 after a two-month nationwide search. Prior to coming to Annapolis, he had worked for the St. Petersburg, Fla., Police Department for 21 years.

When he took over, morale was low and racial tensions were escalating. Chief Robbins made an effort to increase minority recruitment and promotion, including a controversial move to create five corporal positions and fill them with black and female police officers. Thirteen current and former police officers who were higher on eligibility lists than some or all of those promoted subsequently sued.

But the chief apparently was unable to remedy the force's lingering morale problems.

"I don't think it was any secret that there were those in the city who weren't too happy with what was going on in the Police Department," said James Lowthers, secretary-treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400, which represents police officers.

In August, 50 members of the police union approved 44-6 a no-confidence vote against the chief, citing a lack of leadership and support. Mr. Lowthers faulted the chief for not pushing hard enough for retirement and disability benefits and shift scheduling.

Mr. Lowthers expressed hope that the union will get along better with Deputy Chief Johnson. "I believe he's going to be more open to joint problem solving," he said.

Chief Robbins' resignation was so sudden that even his deputy chief was unaware of the action until he learned it was posted on a bulletin board.

But Deputy Chief Johnson, a long-time friend of Chief Robbins, said he was not completely surprised. He said the chief frequently talked about his enjoyment of travel and consulting work.

Chief Robbins plans to work as a consultant for Police Executive Research Foundation, an organization that provides management studies of police departments throughout the country, Deputy Chief Johnson said. Chief Robbins worked for the organization prior to coming to Annapolis and continued to do consultant work while chief.

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