Balto. County police officer leaves force over license plate

Abbreviations were comment on department

July 26, 2000|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Julie Strebe says she ended her eight-year career as a Baltimore County police officer because of the license plate on her truck.

Strebe and her husband, John - a 16-year-veteran of the department - have a five-letter personal tag on their 2000 Ford truck. Strebe says the first two letters stand for "fed up."

They could also be interpreted as an abbreviation for an obscenity. The last three letters are IAS, the department's acronym for the Internal Affairs Section.

The tag, she said, is meant to express the couple's frustration with Internal Affairs.

"We thought it would be funny. There are a lot of things we had issues with. ... I got tired of the department trying to run our personal life," said Strebe.

But the former officer said that when a supervisor saw the tag on her truck, she was threatened with another IAS investigation. She resigned this month.

County police spokesman Bill Toohey said "no investigation has been undertaken in this matter and none was planned." He declined to comment further, saying it was a personnel matter.

The "conduct clause" of the department's administrative manual states that any conduct "which tends to undermine or be prejudicial to the good order, efficiency or discipline of the department or which reflects discredit on the department ... is subject to disciplinary action by the Chief of Police."

Julie Strebe - who worked in the department's traffic section - said she was confronted by a supervisor last month, one day after she drove the truck to a police event, and was told she could face charges.

"My [supervisor] told me that Internal Affairs was notified," Strebe said.

The Strebes have been investigated before. They were charged in August with misconduct after a heated argument with a parking lot owner while off duty, Julie Strebe said. They were each found guilty of conduct unbecoming of an officer.

In 1998, John Strebe was docked 25 days' pay - a severe penalty - after an Internal Affairs investigation found he had worked a second job while on the county clock.

He was also the subject of two other investigations, though no charges were filed, she said.

Michael Marshall, a Baltimore attorney who represents the county's Fraternal Order of Police chapter, said the license plate raises questions about the rights of an individual vs. the rights of the department.

"My feeling is that a tag you put on your personal car - and the MVA approves - it shouldn't be a problem. ... If it is a personal car that is not being used for police business, I don't think it is any of their business," Marshall said. "The flip side is that department has the right to regulate speech if it interferes with the good order and efficiency of the police department."

Motor Vehicle Administration officials said they have a committee that reviews all applications for personalized tags.

"The fact that this type of plate got by our committee is not that surprising because it's not a word. It's not even a recognizable acronym," said Richard Scher, an MVA spokesman. "We really don't have many problems with these plates because people usually use good judgment."

Strebe's husband continues to work in the department's SWAT team and said he has never been contacted about the license plate. The Strebes say they have no plans to get rid of it.

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