STRATEGIC BLUNDERS have not only made Howard County Police Chief James N. Robey an easy target for criticism, they have also overshadowed promising programs his department has launched to fight crime in his six-year tenure.
The bad press Chief Robey receives has often been a matter of his own doing -- or undoing.
In 1992, for example, on ABC-TV's "PrimeTime Live," Chief Robey defended the use of lie-detector tests on rape victims. A 19-year-old rape victim who failed a lie-detector test was accused by Howard Police Sgt. Thomas M. Martin of lying and her complaint was all but abandoned. Eventually, her assailant was caught and he confessed -- but only after raping another woman. Nevertheless, Chief Robey maintained on national television that he saw nothing wrong with using lie-detectors to assess charges from rape victims.
The public was recently reminded of how Chief Robey had defended Sergeant Martin, when the sergeant was himself convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in his patrol car. He received the minimum sentence of four years.
Last month, Chief Robey again defended his department to the bitter end after prosecutors dropped 11 of 13 cases resulting from a seven-month probe into massage parlors. Investigating officers had made dozens of visits to the operations and allowed themselves to be masturbated by massage technicians to build their case. Defense attorneys used this ill-conceived tack to unravel the prosecution's case. Yet Chief Robey not only insisted his men "acted properly," but added he would consider authorizing the same investigation again.
Growth may be responsible for more crime in some areas, but not the chief. Chief Robey, in fact, has taken important measures combat crime. (Overall, the crime rate per population has dropped the past 20 years against persons and property.) Several high-profile incidents, such as last year's Scan furniture robbery, remain unsolved. But arrests in Howard have risen overall. A bicycle patrol has raised the police presence, as will a new plan to have two officers patrolling the high schools.
High-profile cases, more than day-to-day operations, play the largest role in shaping public perceptions. The chief must keep that in mind, and try to choose his words more carefully.
Pub Date: 5/03/96