A University of Maryland, Baltimore County mountain-bike officer is hoping to unseat Anne Arundel County's popular sheriff, who is vying for a third term.
Republican John E. Moran IV says that although he knows he faces an uphill race against Democrat George F. Johnson IV, he expects to get a boost from a strong showing here by Republican gubernatorial hopeful Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Johnson, 49, of Pasadena, is a darling of area Democrats. He is a proven vote-getter, and his late father served as a former chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee. The sheriff has raised about $244,000 for his re-election bid.
Moran, 38, of Brooklyn Park, was elected in September to the Republican Central Committee. He has made two unsuccessful bids for political office, coming close in 1994 to toppling then-Sheriff Robert G. Pepersack Sr. in the GOP primary before supporting Johnson's first bid. He has raised about $4,000.
The Sheriff's Department provides security for the Circuit Court. It serves warrants and protective orders, has a child-support enforcement squad, and runs crime-prevention and safety programs. During Johnson's tenure, these roles have expanded; serving all of the District Court and Circuit Court papers now generates hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Johnson, a retired county police sergeant who said he is running on his record of improving and bringing more professionalism to the Sheriff's Department, has attacked his opponent as lacking supervisory experience and in-depth knowledge of the department's growing duties.
But Moran, who has worked for several law enforcement agencies, has challenged Johnson's record, claiming that he could run a more efficient operation and would adjust priorities.
Moran's criticisms address primarily three areas: He contends that the department should focus on capturing violent offenders who are among its 10,000-warrant backlog because they are likely contributors to rising violent crime. The office should develop a reserve officer volunteer program to free up paid deputies, he said.
Moran said that if deputies were treated better, their salaries would be less of an issue: "If you can't retain your personnel, that's a leadership issue."
He also contended that the sheriff's raise - approved by the General Assembly two years ago, bringing the salary from $57,000 to about $86,000 - was wrong, especially given the low deputy salaries that he claims Johnson has not worked hard enough to raise. He said he would seek to have the measure repealed.
Moran worked as an Arundel deputy in the mid-1980s under then-Sheriff William R. Huggins. He switched to the Baltimore County department when that agency took over transporting prisoners, but he lost his job when the county privatized prisoner transportation. He and a friend, former Deputy Mark Gillen, unsuccessfully sued Huggins and the county, alleging a scheme to put them out of work because Gillen was considering running against Huggins. The ex-deputies later settled a lawsuit against their lawyer, alleging that he had mishandled their complaint.
Later, Moran worked as a deputy sheriff for Baltimore City and was part of a task force targeting violent offenders before moving to UMBC's bicycle patrol. He holds a bachelor's degree in business management from the Johns Hopkins University and a master's degree from the University of Baltimore in criminal justice.
Responding to Johnson's criticism that he lacks management experience, he said he led a warrant team in Baltimore and is an infantry captain in the Army National Guard, where he has managed 100 soldiers and a brigade.
Defending himself from Moran's criticism, Johnson said, "My record speaks for itself. I have changed this office dramatically over eight years."
Johnson pointed out that he inherited a 13,000-warrant backlog from the county police and has reduced that to 10,000. He said warrant officers currently focus on offenders with the most serious crimes and records.
The department has used volunteers and interns but, Johnson said, he needs the reliability of trained, paid professionals for courthouse security and sensitive posts.
Johnson defended the sheriff's pay raise. He said it was tied to the salary of an Anne Arundel County Police Department captain, who supervises approximately the same number of people - 108. The raise also recognizes that as the leader of an agency, the sheriff has more duties and a $6 million budget, he said.
He has lobbied for higher salaries for deputies to recognize that their jobs often subject them to dangerous circumstances, and that many of their qualifications are identical to those of police officers. But recruiting and retention have been long-standing problems, in part because other agencies lure deputies with higher pay.
Although the raises won during collective bargaining have been smaller than deputies had hoped, Johnson said he has won upgrades for deputies' cars, uniforms, training, computers, radios and more.
Johnson, who led the county Police Department's armed robbery and hostage negotiation unit during his 22-year tenure there, has the endorsement of several law enforcement groups in the area.
He holds an associate's degree in criminal justice from Anne Arundel Community College and has continued law enforcement training.