'Sky' chief keeps cops on the move Enforcement: During union contract talks, Arundel police chief Thomas P. Shanahan used a helicopter to discourage officers from meeting while on duty.

April 03, 1999|By DEVON SPURGEON | DEVON SPURGEON,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County acting Police Chief Thomas P. Shanahan authorized use of the department helicopter to keep an eye on his officers and banned them from patrolling a major highway -- all to ensure their good behavior during contract negotiations.

Officers ratified a contract last night, but over the previous 12 days, the chief spent more than $2,000 in county money watching over rank-and-file officers.

"I use a helicopter as a tool to manage resources," said Shanahan. "My obligation is to the citizens of this county."

Officers say that Shanahan's order requiring them to get permission from a supervisor before using Route 100, a major thoroughfare connecting Interstate 95 to eastern Anne Arundel County, has delayed response time to emergency calls.

Now, said officers who spoke on condition of anonymity, rather than go through the cumbersome process of getting a supervisor's permission to use Route 100, they are using back roads. This can add 10 to 15 minutes, depending on traffic, to emergency response times, they said.

Shanahan's ban on using the highway came in response to an incident March 26, when 10 to 15 patrol cars parked on the Route 100 median, slowing morning rush hour traffic. Rubberneckers slowing to look at the patrol cars caused a minor accident.

Union officials said the officers parked as a "sign of solidarity."

Shanahan said he was outraged at the demonstration and the "misuse of police resources" by officers who were supposed to be on patrol.

He also banned four officers from using their patrol cars.

At a training meeting Thursday, Shanahan warned officers not to "behave like Teamsters or you will be treated like Teamsters," according to police union officials.

But even before the highway demonstration, Shanahan was using the helicopter to patrol his force. Records show that twice before the demonstration, the helicopter, with a captain or a lieutenant from his staff on board, watched over the officers for more than two hours.

Sgt. Larry Walker, the helicopter's pilot, said that eight "reconnaissance flights of the county" have been conducted in the past two weeks. Each flight lasted more than two hours and cost the county $119 per hour, according to Walker.

Walker says he understands the objection of other officers, but the flights are "a legitimate legal order from command and, therefore, I must obey."

The patrols concentrated on police presence and traffic flow on Routes 100, 32 and 50, Walker said.

Shanahan says he used the helicopters to deter his officers from demonstrating in the medians. He denies following officers or spying on them.

Shanahan, appointed acting chief by County Executive Janet S. Owens last December, said using the helicopter to keep officers from gathering on the medians and creating a traffic disturbance was "in the best interest of the citizens."

But while the helicopter was busy earlier this week patrolling the police force, it was unavailable when a request was made to assist Howard County in criminal surveillance, Walker said.

"My obligation is to the citizens of Anne Arundel County, not Howard," Shanahan said.

Owens, vacationing in Florida, could not be reached for comment, said spokesman Andrew C. Carpenter.

In recent weeks, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70, which represents county police, tried to build grass roots support for its 8 percent pay raise request by issuing warnings rather than tickets for some traffic violations. Members also put up posters at county businesses asking for citizen support.

Last night's vote, 224-78, approved a new contract to replace one that expires at the end of June. It gives police a 3 percent pay raise and repeals a much-disliked two-tiered pension system.

The contract, still to be approved by the County Council, also would prohibit Shanahan from taking disciplinary action against the four officers whose patrol cars were taken away.

Anne Arundel County pays first-year officers $27,876. Starting salaries do not differ significantly from surrounding counties, but major disparities exist for experienced officers.

At the six-year mark, officers in Anne Arundel County earn almost $4,000 less than their Howard County counterparts and about $8,000 less than those in Prince George's County.

Pub Date: 04/03/99

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