When Dan Fickus was appointed president of the Baltimore police union last week, he took a job with immediate challenges.
He succeeds Gary McLhinney, who is widely credited with making the union a political force and with helping to win a major salary increase for the department's officers three years ago.
Fickus must not only fill McLhinney's shoes but also build a solid relationship with a new police chief and negotiate a labor contract to replace the one expiring in June.
"I like it when the waters get rough," said Fickus, a lifelong sailor. "When it gets tough, it brings out the best in the person."
Fickus, 52, is a veteran police officer who slowly climbed the ranks of the leadership of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which represents the Police Department's 3,300 officers and 1,600 retirees. He will remain an officer while leading the union full-time.
Fickus says he took active roles in the union because he identified more strongly with the rights of labor and the well-being of his fellow officers than becoming a commander.
"I always felt that the working individuals needed representation," Fickus said in an interview. "We have fought hard to make gains to protect our officers over the last 20 years or so. If those protections aren't enforced, we'll lose those protections. You need someone there to stand up for the rank and file."
Those beliefs and Fickus' long history of union leadership make him an ideal president, his colleagues say.
"He really cares and has been around this business, protecting police officers and looking out for their betterment for years," said Officer Paul Loomis, the union's first vice president and Fickus' closest aide. "He's up to the challenge."
Fickus' initial goals are simple: He wants to win a raise for officers during contract negotiations and hopes to continue the close relationship between the union and police leadership.
He is particularly excited about getting to know new Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark, a veteran New York police commander. Clark replaces Edward T. Norris, now superintendent of the Maryland State Police.
"He has a great resume," Fickus said. "Everybody we have had conversations with in New York says he is a great commander, and they enjoyed working for the man. ... It's easier to work with somebody than to work against him."
Fickus grew up in eastern Baltimore County, near the Gunpowder River. His family loved boats and owned several of them -- from a speedy motorboat to a sailboat.
The second oldest of three brothers, Fickus graduated from Kenwood High School in 1968 and attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County before joining the Navy in 1970.
He requested assignments on small ships because they were the most challenging, Fickus says, but the Navy assigned him to an aircraft carrier instead. After three years as a yeoman, he left the Navy, returned to UMBC and earned a bachelor's degree in European history.
Fickus joined the department in 1975, serving in the Northeastern District and later the Southeastern.
In the mid-1980s, he was appointed the union's Southeastern District representative, handling grievances between officers and commanders.
He held a variety of other jobs until being appointed the union's second vice president in 1997. Last year, he won election to first vice president and became McLhinney's chief aide.
After leading the union's campaign for Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. last fall, McLhinney was appointed chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police. McLhinney stepped down officially Jan. 27, and Fickus took over to complete the two-year term.
Colleagues say that McLhinney and Fickus have different leadership styles. McLhinney was vocal and gregarious, but Fickus is described by union members as more low-key, and thoughtful.
"Danny's very intelligent," said Richard Simmons, a founding member of the union and a former president. "He doesn't flap. He's been around the block. He's handled every facet of this organization."