Taneytown police chief leaving good memories

Officials, subordinates praise law enforcer who worked with a smile

April 16, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Taneytown Police Chief Melvin E. Diggs plans to retire Thursday for the second time, ending 38 years in law enforcement.

After 25 years as an officer, detective and administrator in Baltimore, Diggs retired and brought his affable smile and community policing skills to Taneytown in 1988.

More than 12 years later, Diggs said he has had enough. He celebrated his 65th birthday Tuesday. He can't explain why he decided to stay on the job another nine days.

But when he packs a few personal items from his desk at police headquarters for the final time and heads home to Owings Mills, he'll likely do what he always does: wave to business owners, mothers out for a stroll and kids playing along Baltimore Street, Taneytown's main thoroughfare.

While patrolling the city of about 5,000 people in northwest Carroll County, Diggs has received thousands of waves and smiles, and has returned just as many.

"I'm not going to miss the drive to and from Taneytown every day, but I honestly don't know what I am going to do to keep busy," he said. "I'm not a hunter, a golfer or a fisherman. I hate gardening, but I know I've got to find something to do."

Diggs and Janet, his wife of 19 years, are planning a vacation to Hawaii and "maybe a cruise somewhere next year," he said. "Beyond that, we have no definite plans."

Years ago, Diggs used to get away on weekends to the Eastern Shore, where he puttered on his boat docked at Kent Island.

"We enjoyed socializing with other boaters, but I sold the boat because the upkeep was too expensive," he said.

The chief's only other hobby has been karaoke, Janet Diggs said recently.

"I bought Mel a small karaoke machine because he liked singing so much, and he spent hours and hours practicing on weekends," she said.

Diggs got so good, he was invited to perform at a benefit for the Maryland Special Olympics in 1996 and helped raise more than $1,800, serving nine hours as a performer and master of ceremonies.

"He's really quite a good singer, mostly country-western," Janet Diggs said.

Ask Diggs to talk about himself or his days as a policeman on a beat in the city and he politely says he'd rather talk about the good work his officers are doing in Taneytown.

Lt. Gregory Woelfel, the leading candidate to succeed Diggs, has praised the chief for his ability to solve problems and soothe irate or distraught citizens.

Once an upset businessman came to the police station to report that thieves had broken into his store overnight and stolen numerous items.

Diggs greeted the man with a smile. The thieves already had been caught and the stolen items recovered, Woelfel said during a previous interview.

"Chief Diggs certainly will be missed," said Charles "Chip" Boyle, city manager. "He hasn't been one of those ivory tower type leaders. He really enjoyed talking with the people, and I believe that's the kind of positive trait that has rubbed off on Lt. Woelfel."

Mayor Henry C. Heine Jr. said he would appoint Woelfel as acting chief Thursday and ask at the May council meeting that city leaders approve Woelfel permanently. Woelfel was not available for comment.

Heine said Diggs brought stability and leadership to Taneytown and became a force in the community, gaining the respect of his officers, city leaders and residents.

"Chief Diggs went way above and beyond the duties as chief of police when he got involved in fund raising with his karaoke singing," Heine said. "On several occasions, he served as the featured act for our Christmas parties, and people have said those were our best parties."

Ask Taneytown officers about Diggs and they praise his leadership.

Sgt. Bill Tyler, a five-year veteran under Diggs, said the chief's leadership and compassion for people will be missed.

Recently, the chief stayed overtime to care for a distraught juvenile caught in the middle of a custody fight, Tyler recalled.

"Instead of going home when his shift ended, he kept right on working to calm down" the juvenile, Tyler said. "The chief got the child dinner and stayed until relatives arrived later to take custody."

Diggs always stood up for his officers, whether for improved salaries or new equipment, and he made the agency seem more like family, Tyler said.

Mark Tausendschoen, now a deputy with the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, worked under Diggs for 2 1/2 years.

"Chief Diggs gave me a chance in law enforcement when a lot of others wouldn't because of my eyesight," said Tausendschoen, who needs glasses or contacts to correct his vision to 20/20.

"He is very caring and understanding of officers and people," Tausendschoen said.

If any officer wanted to do anything that benefited the community, Diggs would jump behind it 100 percent, Tyler said.

"He encouraged us to sponsor a Little League baseball team and rearranged work schedules so we could manage the team and coach the kids," Tyler said. "And then he'd come to the games with his wife and root for the kids."

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