Precedent-setting officer swaps badge for politics Lt. Charity to become campaign manager for ex-Chief Robey

March 31, 1998|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

Lt. Herman Charity, Howard County's first black police officer, is retiring after an illustrious 30-year career that has mirrored social changes in the county.

But his working life is not getting easier: He's signed on to be campaign manager for the Police Department's former chief, James N. Robey, who is running for county executive.

Charity, 48, will be the first to admit that he's a political novice. But Robey says Charity was the first person he thought of when he decided to run for Howard's top political seat.

"One of the things I took into consideration when I thought about who I wanted my campaign manager to be was choosing someone that I felt comfortable with and someone who would be loyal," says Robey, who is running his campaign from his Ellicott City home. "Loyalty is at the top of the list. I also wanted someone who cared about Howard County as much as me," he adds. "And Herman is that person."

Though Charity retires from the police force tomorrow, he likely will see little down time in his new line of work. "It won't be like I'm having a nice easy retirement because I'm actually starting a whole new career," the Jessup native says. "I'll be working long hours and I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's going to be something new, that's for sure."

It was a challenge when he joined the Howard County Police Department as an 18-year-old cadet in July 1968, becoming the first black police officer in the county.

Off-color remarks

He heard racist, off-color remarks from fellow officers. Many Howard residents were upset to see a black police officer appear at their door or catch them speeding.

Being the first black police officer wasn't the only "first" for Charity in his 30-year career.

Charity became the department's first black detective, first black corporal, first black sergeant, first black vice and narcotics officer, and first black internal affairs officer, a division he now heads.

And although more blacks are on the force than ever -- there are 43 -- there is more that needs to be done for minorities inside and outside the department, Charity says.

"I still think we need more African-Americans and more minorities -- including women -- on the force," he says. "I would encourage the ones who are on the force right now to take the tests for supervisor positions in some of the special units within the department.

'Take the initiative'

"They should take the initiative to take the tests, and they also have to have the desire to be leaders -- on the police force and in the community," Charity adds.

The next few months will be filled with planning fund-raisers and soliciting donations to get Robey elected, Charity says.

"I think the chances are excellent that the chief will win or else I wouldn't be doing this [running the campaign]," he acknowledges. "I don't want to be on a losing team, but we have a long, hard race ahead of us."

While the relationship between the two men has always been friendly and respectful, both say their friendship will inevitably change -- but only for the better.

'He's an equal'

"Herman is no longer a subordinate," Robey says. "He's an equal and I look to him for advice and to make things happen.

"He's absolutely the person who can locate all the different groups I should talk to and find out what's on their minds and what they expect of the county executive," Robey says.

Pub Date: 3/31/98

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