Taking another look at Livesay

Police chief draws new attention with public stances

Out of Robey's shadow

Career officer says he's not pursuing post in Baltimore

October 31, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay, who labored for years in the shadow of his predecessor, seized the spotlight this month, giving county residents a view of the more ambitious side of their top law enforcement officer.

Livesay's stand against racial profiling and his unusual public statement in support of officers accused of brutality in a nonracial case together are the most attention-garnering events of his almost two-year tenure as chief.

The career Howard County police officer says the two actions grow out of long-held beliefs and values and don't represent anything new. But the events also underscore that Livesay -- longtime understudy to former Chief James N. Robey, now county executive -- certainly doesn't mind the publicity.

Indeed, Livesay seems to be enjoying another bit of publicity, albeit one he says is without foundation: speculation among the rank and file as well as by a Baltimore television station that he'd like to be a candidate for the post of Baltimore police commissioner.

Livesay brought up the TV report in an interview with a Sun reporter, and while quick to discount its accuracy he made clear that he did not mind his name being bandied about.

"Somewhere down the road, the name recognition would not hurt," he said, adding that while he expects to stay in Howard for at least five more years, he aspires to head a larger department.

At 47 years old, that is not an unreasonable ambition for a chief who has a master's degree in applied behavioral science from the Johns Hopkins University and plenty of years left to advance his career. Many of Livesay's peers, such as former Prince George's County Police Chief David B. Mitchell, have done the same.

Rose through ranks

Mitchell rose through the ranks of the Prince George's County department and attended law school before Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed him superintendent of the state police.

Livesay distinguished himself among area police departments this month when he announced a new data-gathering program to study whether racial profiling is occurring and to weed out any officers doing it.

Only the state police are doing something similar, and the move was all the more striking given that Howard County has no documented history of racial profiling problems. Establishing this database will require revamping reporting procedures, making it a complicated task.

And Livesay issued a lengthy public statement in defense of two officers who are being sued by a man who claims they assaulted him during a Merriweather Post Pavilion concert last year. The department has filed a rare counter claim against the 22-year-old man and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

In taking a strong stand against racial profiling, Livesay has aligned himself with the Rev. John L. Wright, an outspoken civil rights activist who lives in Baltimore but whose church is in Howard County.

An unusual ally

Wright joined Livesay and Robey during a news conference Oct. 20 announcing the database initiative. A few days later, Livesay and Wright held a community forum at Wright's church -- First Baptist Church of Guilford -- during which Livesay encouraged the black community to report officers who they felt had unfairly stopped them.

Wright and Livesay make an odd pair. While Wright is known for his stance against "zero tolerance" policing programs in which officers arrest those who are committing even the most minor offenses, Livesay has directed his department to use that technique in communities such as Long Reach in Columbia where residents complained of loitering and drug dealing.

"I am a fan of managed zero tolerance," Livesay has said.

But Wright sees it as a tool police departments use to harass blacks.

Wright has the ear of the older African-Americans who have lived in the county for years and have vivid memories of being harassed by a department that was mostly white. Those are the residents whose trust Livesay wants to gain.

Nonetheless, Wright is supportive of Livesay. He said Livesay made an "excellent" presentation to the black community during the forum at his church.

"He made a great move," he said. "If the chief can implement his profile program and it becomes a model for the country, he will go far."

Livesay says his relationship with Wright goes back almost a decade to when he was in the department's Internal Affairs section and Wright came to him with suspicions that a young man who was found dead hanging from a basketball hoop in Oakland Mills could have been murdered.

After an extensive grand jury and state police investigation, there was no evidence that the man, who had filed a brutality complaint against police, had been murdered. His death was ruled suicide.

Differences of opinion

The chief's bond with Wright wouldn't help him if he were interested in the city police chief job. Wright opposes the zero tolerance police program that Martin O'Malley, the Democratic candidate for mayor and likely winner in Tuesday's election, wants to institute. And Wright supports the Republican candidate.

"I would go to bat for the chief on this, but I don't think that I am in very well with O'Malley," Wright said.

Robey, Livesay's mentor, is surprised by the speculation concerning the city job, but not by Livesay's public stance on racial profiling. Livesay came to him several months ago with the idea and Robey said he readily agreed.

"He asked me as county executive if this was something he could do and he asked me as the former chief if I thought it would be a good idea," said Robey, who's not expecting Livesay to leave any time soon.

"Like me, Wayne Livesay's roots are in Howard County," Robey said. "And I would be surprised if he left here now to take a job like that."

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