Owens to get armed guard New county executive has said she received threats during race

Aide denies 'gender issue'

Greater accessibility to public called reason to provide protection

December 10, 1998|By Kirsten Scharnberg | Kirsten Scharnberg,SUN STAFF

In an unprecedented move for Anne Arundel County, Executive Janet S. Owens has hired an armed police bodyguard to chauffeur her around in the county's new $25,000 Ford Crown Victoria.

Owens, who has said that while running for office she was "harassed, threatened and told to go no place alone," will be protected by a full-time, 19-year veteran of the Anne Arundel police force. Although she has refused to name names, Owens has indicated she received threats against her family from an elected Democratic official during her campaign this fall.

"These aren't changing times, they are changed times," said Andrew C. Carpenter, Owens' spokesman. "This county executive wants to be extremely accessible to the public, sometimes from 8 in the morning until 10 at night, and to do that, there is clearly some concern for safety."

Carpenter refused to link the increased security, with a cost of nearly $45,000 a year, to the fact that Owens is the first woman to hold the county's top position. "This is not a gender issue," he said.

There is ample evidence of increased security concerns in the political arena.

In Prince George's County, a highly populated, urban area, the county executive has been trailed by police officers for more than a decade. In Baltimore, a 14-person Executive Protection Unit is responsible for the safety of the mayor and the staff at City Hall. The Baltimore County executive has two full-time police officers who alternate shifts and stay with him when he leaves home.

Montgomery County officials are considering hiring officers to protect their highest-ranking politician, who has received death threats. Maryland's governors have long had security details that number in the dozens of officers and cost taxpayers well over $1 million annually.

"If you look at violence in our counties and across the country, you'll see it's only going up," said Fred Thomas, director of public safety for Prince George's County, which oversees protection of County Executive Wayne K. Curry. "And that kind of violence could easily be directed at chief executives because they are in positions where they often are making hard and

unpopular decisions."

Ousted Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary, who is known for speaking his mind and not being politically correct, said this of Owens' security detail:

"Well, she will be on the road late at night, and she is a woman. I can see where she would want and need some protection."

When told that Owens has chosen Officer Carol Frye to be her full-time guard and Det. Katie Goodwin to be Frye's backup, Gary stumbled.

"Now that's an interesting decision because they're women, too," he said. "But they will be armed, I assume, and that's usually a pretty good deterrent."

Gary, whose biting one-liners earned him enemies, said he never felt unsafe during his four years in the high-profile position in this suburban and still very rural county.

"But then again I'm 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds," he said, laughing. "And you've got to remember that I was the big, bad bully, and everyone was afraid of me."

The closest he came to violence while in office, Gary said, was when an angry constituent threatened to punch him in the nose.

"But when I pulled myself out of my car, he just disappeared," he said, referring to the 1994 Mercury Grand Marquis the county bought for him when he became executive.

Carpenter, who said Owens picked her guards, said the new executive will be protected only when in public for job-related events.

"If Janet and her husband are out for lunch on a Saturday, security isn't going to be along," he said.

The officers will stick close to the executive in crowds and drive her to meetings, Carpenter said. When asked how close the officers will stay, Carpenter quipped, "I don't know if they will be in the bathroom with her, but let's just say they will be aware of when she is visiting the executive powder room."

The open-door policy to the public will go only so far.

A high-tech security system, which prevents people without an electronic identification card from entering the county executive's suite of offices, will remain activated during Owens' four-year term.

Pub Date: 12/10/98

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