FOP editorial, defense put Balto. Co. chief in spotlight

Sheridan's performance becomes an issue after relatively peaceful tenure

January 17, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Since being appointed Baltimore County police chief, Terrence B. Sheridan has enjoyed a relatively peaceful reign as the top cop, with few vocal critics and dwindling crime rates.

He is well liked by the county council and community leaders. And although new County Executive James T. Smith Jr., said he hasn't made a decision about whether he'll keep Sheridan, he said yesterday he thinks the chief is doing a good job.

But Sheridan's performance became an issue this week when his top commanders wrote a letter to Smith to counter criticism in the Fraternal Order of Police newsletter.

Typical of his seven years as chief, Sheridan has not spoken publicly about the FOP's charges or his commanders' response to it.

Sheridan, father of three adult children who lives with his wife in Lutherville, doesn't often seek public attention. In fact, most of the criticism about him has revolved around his communication with officials and dealings with officers, not about daily crime-fighting tactics.

"Crime is down generally," said Smith. "There are some bumps on the road, but his resolution of cases is at an extremely high rate."

Smith said he was aware of the union's complaints.

In the newsletter, FOP President Cole B. Weston wrote that Sheridan should have taken a stronger position on replacing out-of-date equipment, and that he unfairly suspended, transferred and promoted officers. A spokesman for Sheridan disputed those charges.

"Any chief has a tough job," said Weston, who heads the union representing 1,800 officers. "But they have a responsibility not only to the citizens, but to law enforcement and to the officers willing to put themselves on the line."

Weston stopped short of calling for Sheridan to be replaced, but said a stronger vision is needed. "Terry Sheridan has a keen sense for crime fighting," Weston said. "This isn't personal. It's professional."

Some commanders created another furor when they wrote to Smith in support of Sheridan. But some supervisors said they felt pressured to agree to send it, and others questioned its appropriateness. Sheridan's spokesman said the chief had nothing to do with it.

But these incidents pale in comparison with the city Police Department, which has had four commissioners during Sheridan's tenure.

Sheridan, 59, served in the Army National Guard, graduated from Loyola College and spent 30 years with state police. He retired in 1995 as commander of the Bureau of Drug Enforcement. He was appointed as chief in 1996 by County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

"Our Police Department has not had any major controversies in the last eight years," said Ruppersberger, who is now in Congress. "[Sheridan] has a very steady hand. He's one of the finest ... police officers I've worked with as a prosecutor and county executive."

The 79,568 crimes reported in the county during 2001 were well below the five-year peak and clearances of violent crimes was about 79 percent, according to department statistics.

But on some administrative matters, Sheridan has not fared as well. The County Council had to referee his decision to abolish midnight shifts. And he didn't earn favor with the rank-and-file when he decided to suspend several officers in the early stages of an FBI's investigation into off-duty security work at Staples stores. No officers were charged.

Most members of the County Council said Sheridan should stay as chief.

"I think that Chief Sheridan commands the respect of the council because he came in and tightened up the organization, and the bottom line is that the crime rate has dropped significantly since he took office," said Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat. "He certainly could be better with communication, but I'm satisfied with the end results, and when you're talking about public safety, that's what's most important."

Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner John McEntee said Sheridan "was always very approachable - fair without being one of the boys. I think he's a good honest professional. I truly do."

Sun staff writers Stephanie Hanes and Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.

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