Scrutinizing the state police

July 06, 1994

There is a fatal contradiction between state police Superintendent Larry W. Tolliver's insistence that his raid on The Block last January was well conducted and his vigorous shake-up of the unit that was primarily involved.

Colonel Tolliver has demoted or reassigned several commanders the drug bureau, which conducted an undercover operation and a highly publicized raid on Baltimore's tawdry cluster of clip joints. There is ample evidence the raid was seriously flawed, including allegations of misconduct by three investigating officers. Despite Colonel Tolliver's protestations, there hasn't been much accomplished in cleaning up what is left of the city's once-renowned "adult entertainment" zone.

Now that the pretense is stripped away, some other issues are surfacing. There are some things the Maryland State Police do very well, and they are by no means limited to enforcing speed limits and playing bellhop to governors and other high state officials. But in growing from a highway patrol to a modern police force, the state police seem to have skipped over some essential steps. That's not unusual among law enforcement agencies; there are few that have not stumbled and revealed weaknesses at one time or another.

It's clear from his knee-jerk reactions to criticism of the state police that Gov. William Donald Schaefer will not give the agency the hard scrutiny it deserves. Colonel Tolliver is his creation, elevated over more experienced officers from head of the governor's personal security detail (and errand-runners). It's all the media's fault anyway, in the governor's eyes, for failing to appreciate his minions. But Governor Schaefer's term is nearly over, and it's time to look ahead.

There is a lot of strength to build on in the state police. Despite recurrent complaints (from within as well as without) of favoritism and internal politics in promotions and choice assignments, there is a strong core of professionalism in all ranks. One need is for strong, experienced leadership at the top. That can be dealt with by a new governor next January. Equally important is a serious examination of the department by outside experts -- not a witch hunt, not a purge, not a search for scapegoats, but the sort of professional evaluation which many agencies undergo.

Candidates for state office in this fall's elections can offer more than simple grandstanding to allay public concern over crime rates. They can lay the groundwork now for a competent, dispassionate evaluation of the state police next year. That would go far to restore public confidence in the state police and to bolster the solid professionals who deserve public support.

5/8

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