Balto. Co. names new police chief Sheridan to replace Chief Gambrill, who held post 2 1/2 years

Ruppersberger denies rift

Nominee had retired as lieutenant colonel in state police in '95

February 16, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A retired state police official was tapped yesterday to head Baltimore County's 1,535-officer Police Department, as Chief Michael D. Gambrill announced he is leaving the post for a lucrative private security job.

Terrence B. Sheridan, 52, who retired as a Maryland State Police lieutenant colonel last year after a 30-year career, will move April 5 from his position as executive assistant for student safety in the county school system.

The announcement came amid rumors that began in September, when Mr. Sheridan came to work for the county and Chief Gambrill qualified for a lucrative county pension.

County officials yesterday acknowledged some disagreement between the police chief and County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppers- berger III over how quickly the department could boost its response to crime. And the county executive has, at times, criticized the department's approach to community policing.

But the officials insisted that Chief Gambrill was not pushed -- or even nudged -- out of the department, the 36th largest in the nation.

"I met Mike Monday and said, 'I don't want you to leave,' " Mr. Ruppersberger said at a news conference.

Mr. Sheridan, who said his first notice of the offer came Tuesday, added that he would not take it if his longtime friend were being pressured to leave.

Chief Gambrill, 53, will become national security director for Dunbar Armored Inc., a Dundalk-based armored car company with 2,300 workers and 50 branches in 18 states. The company plans to build a new headquarters in Hunt Valley this year.

Chief Gambrill said he couldn't turn down such an attractive offer, which was made about six weeks ago.

The chief said a major factor in his decision to leave the Police Department had to do with his two households, one in Hampstead in Carroll County, where his family lives, and the other a condominium in White Marsh where he lives during the week.

Since becoming chief in September 1993, he has maintained the White Marsh condominium because police chiefs are required by law to live in the county.

"It's a good day for me and especially for my family," said Chief Gambrill, who grew up with Mr. Sheridan in Parkville. "I've got five children that I hardly ever see."

Chief Gambrill, who started as a cadet in the county force in 1961, will receive a generous pension because he retires as a department head -- roughly 88 percent of his $91,500 salary. And as a retiree, he won't have to contribute 7.2 percent of his earnings toward that pension.

One of the high points of leaving after such a long career, he said, was knowing that the job would go to a friend and respected colleague.

County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor, who once supervised the work of both men, said she was "shocked" and "very sad" that Chief Gambrill is retiring.

"Rumors have been flying," she said, that "somewhere down the line Terry Sheridan would be police chief," but she didn't expect it this soon. "I think Mike Gambrill did a wonderful, wonderful job."

Mr. Ruppersberger, who worked with both men in the 1970s when he was an assistant state's attorney and they were police investigators, said he picked a new chief quickly for several reasons.

He wanted a quick transition, not a long national search, he said. He had few choices within the department because of recent high-level retirements. And Mr. Sheridan already lives in the county, in Lutherville.

Mr. Sheridan, who headed the state police drug enforcement bureau until last year, has participated in several discussions on crime with Mr. Ruppersberger, Chief Gambrill and Cornelius J. Behan, the retired county police chief.

The appointment must be confirmed by the County Council, but five of the seven members attended yesterday's news conference. Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz said he believes that an executive should be able to pick his own police chief.

Asked about reports of friction between himself and the chief, Mr. Ruppersberger replied that he had been pressuring Chief Gambrill to attack crime more aggressively using new community policing techniques. There was no dispute as such, he said, "I just wanted to do it quicker."

County police and administration officials have traveled to New York City several times in recent months to study new methods credited with lowering crime rates there. The idea is to attack even minor crimes, using computer-aided statistical analysis and special police deployments.

"Dutch is not a patient man," added his spokesman, Michael H. Davis. "If [officers] heard Dutch say he wasn't happy, it's because he was impatient."

He is also a man who believes that "police should do police work, not be a social workers," Mr. Davis said. The executive wants the concept of community policing incorporated into each officer's everyday work, not in separate units that do community relations more than law enforcement.

By April, the department will have hired more than 300 new officers and 100 new civilians in 24 months, bringing sworn strength to 1,580, slightly above 1990 levels.

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