Number of police rising in ranks

Boom in promotions triggered by several high-level retirements

February 11, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

After awarding 27 promotions in the past two months, Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay should be feeling a bit like Ed McMahon of the American Family Publishers Sweepstakes.

But Livesay said being the bearer of so much good news can have its drawbacks.

"It's actually the most difficult, gut-wrenching thing I do as chief," he said of promotion decisions. "There are lot of good people who I can't promote because there's not enough room."

Livesay said he remembers both feelings - being passed up for a promotion and being awarded one. The chief chooses the officers to be promoted from a list of the top 10 candidates generated by their assessment test scores.

Many of the department's 356 sworn officers have been climbing up the ladder this year. The most recent 14 promotions were announced last week and many more are to come, Livesay said.

The upward surge is a side effect of the improved retirement package that started Jan. 1. Now, officers with at least 25 years of service can retire with 75 percent of their salary.

"A lot of people were probably ready to leave a year or so ago but hung on because they knew this retirement package was on the way," Livesay said.

Most of the retirements have been in the top tiers of the department, which has caused a ripple effect. For example, the retirement of a single captain starts a chain reaction of four promotions - lieutenant to captain, sergeant to lieutenant, corporal to sergeant and private first class to corporal.

And that's just one retirement.

Five of the department's seven captains have either recently retired or announced their plans to do so. So far, Kevin Burnett, Lee Lachman, Gregory Marshall, Gary Gardner and Nancy Yeager have all been tapped to fill captain's positions.

"This is a time of unprecedented change in the police department," said county police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. "The department is going to look completely different within the next few months."

More major changes may be on the way. Both deputy chiefs - the department's second-highest position - are eligible to retire, which would mean another five promotions each.

Each time he promotes someone, Livesay said, he either meets with or calls the officer to deliver the news.

Yeager, who was promoted Jan. 1, said she was shopping at a grocery store when the chief called her cell phone. Livesay had arrived at work early that morning to try to tell her in person, not realizing she had taken the day off, she said.

Yeager's promotion made her the first woman captain in the department's 50-year history.

A promotion means more than just a new rank. There is an automatic pay raise of at least 5 percent - and usually a major switch in duty. Gardner, for example, was a lieutenant in the administrative section of the department, but as a captain now heads the criminal investigation division.

All of the recent promotions have meant significant changes in duties for the recipients, Livesay said. Some officers who have been promoted do not yet know where they will be transferred, but he said he expects to make those announcements within a few weeks.

Livesay said he tries to build in overlap time so officers can adjust to their new positions and learn from the retiring officers.

He did that with Yeager, who worked alongside retiring Capt. Howard Ferguson, a 36-year veteran, for about a month before assuming her new role as Northern District commander.

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