Challenge awaits police leader Balto. Co.'s next chief must balance fighting crime, preventing it

April 07, 1996|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,STAFF WRITER

When Terrence B. Sheridan becomes Baltimore County's top cop tomorrow, he faces tough choices.

His longtime friend County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, wants quick solutions to a rising crime rate -- solutions that focus on aggressive street enforcement.

But Mr. Sheridan, 52, inherits a department that, since the 1980s, has built itself around community policing techniques that focus on prevention -- techniques that have proved popular and effective across the country but work better in the long term than in the short run.

Mr. Sheridan, who will be sworn in during a 1 p.m. ceremony at Essex Community College, must find a way to walk the middle, reducing the crime rate immediately without abandoning community policing.

"Times are changing, population is changing, values are changing, and I think the Police Department has to be prepared to change with it," Mr. Sheridan said. "The days of the police officer walking the beat and that alone keeping youngsters in line and keeping crime down are gone.

"Crime is going up [here] but not in the surrounding jurisdictions, and we have to figure out why."

Since the announcement of his appointment seven weeks ago, Mr. Sheridan, a retired state police official who was the county executive's assistant for school safety for about a year, has been noncommittal about his plans for the 1,535-officer department that he says has been run efficiently by his good friend Michael D. Gambrill, former chief.

Mr. Sheridan has said he does not plan to abandon all of the ideas of community policing, which places officers in specialized units that staff crime prevention and youth programs in communities.

But he emphasizes that is only one part of law enforcement.

"I am not going to make wholesale changes just for the sake of change," Mr. Sheridan said.

But Mr. Ruppersberger is impatient, those around him say, so much so that he did not want to be bothered with a long national search for a chief. Because of recent retirements, there was no one to promote. And while Mr. Sheridan is an outsider to the department, he is not an outsider to the county or to the Baltimore area.

Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Ruppersberger worked together when Mr. Sheridan was a detective investigating corruption in the Baltimore County state's attorney's office, where Mr. Ruppersberger was a young prosecutor.

Mr. Ruppersberger has said that, although he and former Chief Gambrill like and respect each other, Chief Gambrill was not moving quickly enough to attack crime with computer-aided statistical analysis and specialized police deployments.

According to his aides, Mr. Ruppersberger believes that police should do police work and not try to solve social ills.

"Dutch is impatient in everything," said Douglas B. Riley, a Republican councilman. "Dutch's whole approach is that he focuses on four-year cycles. I think there is going to be a little tension. I don't think that Terry is going to dance to Dutch's tune. He is going learn the department first."

Mr. Sheridan talks of possibly implementing some of the crime-fighting programs that made headlines in New York City. He points to new computer technology such as electronic mapping, which geographically identifies high crime areas. The Police Department, he says, has to work with the county and city governments, families, churches and communities to produce programs that will stop drug use, robbery and juvenile crimes -- the biggest problems in the county.

He also says he will review the top administrative structure of the department, especially the new layer of majors heading each of the nine precincts.

Until now, Mr. Sheridan's law enforcement career has been spent in an agency where community policing techniques are unheard of.

Mr. Sheridan spent 30 years with the state police before retiring soon after Gov. Parris N. Glendening was elected and appointed Col. David B. Mitchell to head the agency.

At the time of his retirement, Mr. Sheridan was lieutenant colonel in charge of the Bureau of Drug Enforcement. If he had stayed with the state police, he would have been demoted to captain. Colonel Mitchell merged the drug enforcement bureau with the Criminal Investigations Division, leaving no room for another lieutenant colonel.

Two other top ranking officials were squeezed out in Colonel Mitchell's reorganization. Although Mr. Sheridan and Colonel Mitchell both say they have no animosity toward each other, those close to them say the two never hit it off and held different opinions on how the department should be run.

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