Rivals criticize Owens' guards

Police protection a waste, election opponents say

Practice common among officials

GOP candidate calls police chief `lackluster'

Anne Arundel

August 01, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Republican Phillip D. Bissett stepped up his campaign for county executive yesterday, criticizing Democratic incumbent Janet S. Owens for using two county police officers to serve as her security detail and to drive her around.

Bissett, a former state delegate who is seeking the Republican nomination to run against Owens in the fall, leveled his attack during a briefing on public safety issues. He also sharply criticized Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan and said he would hire a security preparedness coordinator to set up emergency plans.

Bissett reserved his sharpest attacks for Owens, saying the county could have saved close to $1 million if the incumbent had done without a security detail during her four-year term.

County officials disputed that figure yesterday, saying the total cost - including salaries for two police officers, overtime and vehicle expenses - was closer to $500,000.

Owens could not be reached for comment yesterday, but a campaign spokesman defended her use of a security detail.

"From the governor on down, lots of elected officials have bodyguards," said Michael F. Gilligan, a Glen Burnie attorney who is co-manager of the Owens campaign. "Times have changed so drastically recently, and she feels that she needs one."

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, and Prince George's County Executive Wayne M. Curry have police protection, Gilligan noted. Maryland's governors long have had security details that number into dozens of officers and cost taxpayers more than $1 million annually.

Owens asked for bodyguards soon after she was elected in 1998. At the time, she said she and her family, including her husband, David M. Sheehan, a Baltimore attorney and her top political adviser, had received threats during the campaign.

In calling on Owens to "give up" her two police bodyguards, Bissett said the money used to pay the officers, who rotate duties and earn about $58,000 a year plus overtime, could be better spent on community policing. Bissett challenged Owens to provide proof of any threats made against her or her family.

"I had [threats] when I was a delegate," said Bissett, a Mayo resident who served two terms in the General Assembly. He was defeated in 1998 by C. Richard D'Amato, an Annapolis Democrat.

Bissett said he would not need a bodyguard or a county car. He said he would drive his own.

The other Republican candidate, Tom Angelis of Davidsonville said he would not have bodyguards if elected.

"It is totally unacceptable," he said. "I will be getting rid of them on my first day in office. It is a total waste of money."

Bissett also had harsh words for Shanahan, saying the police is a lackluster manager, has failed to meet regularly with top police personnel and has not played up the benefits of community policing among the rank and file.

"There is no respect within the Police Department of the leadership," Bissett said.

Shanahan, an Owens appointee, refused to join the political fray.

"As I would with any citizen of the county, I will meet with Mr. Bissett to discuss concerns he may have about the Police Department," Shanahan said through a spokesman. "However, I will not allow myself or this department to be used for a political purpose."

Bissett said that if he is elected, he will hire a security preparedness coordinator to prepare for natural and manmade threats to county residents.

"If something happens, the federal government will go right to the National Security Agency" to protect it, said Bissett, referring to the intelligence agency in Laurel. "So we will have to cover for ourselves."

Bissett, who has convened a team of advisers to help him set out a public safety agenda, said he would figure out a way to pay for the new position, which probably would command an executive-level salary, from the existing budget.

He has also promised to hire more police officers to patrol neighborhood streets - something he said Shanahan has not emphasized enough - and offer more competitive salary packages to public safety personnel.

"We need to make sure the export rate of police officers is not high," Bissett said, referring to the temptation among county police employees to seek jobs in counties where they can make more money. "We need to deal with that threat."

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