Acting state police chief pledges `smooth transition'

Hutchins appoints top aide, arranges to meet with union

December 12, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt and Ivan Penn | Laura Barnhardt and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

It has been nearly a decade since Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins walked across the state police compound in Pikesville.

He says when he retired as a state police captain in 1994 he didn't think he'd ever be back. But there he was yesterday - this time being saluted as the department's new superintendent.

"I didn't realize how many people I'd recognize after all these years," said Hutchins, who didn't get more than a few steps between buildings before he recognized one of his former colleagues.

Most recently, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s secretary of veterans affairs and a former state delegate, Hutchins wasted no time starting his job as Maryland's top officer. He replaces Edward T. Norris, who resigned Wednesday after being indicted on federal charges of illegally spending city police funds.

Hutchins, 58, started off the day yesterday at shift change in the LaPlata barracks near his Charles County home of Port Tobacco. Later, he addressed the police academy class in Pikesville and videotaped his first message to the state's 1,600 troopers and 850 civilians.

"My immediate goal as superintendent is to ensure the continuity of law enforcement operations," Hutchins said in the taped address, which will be distributed to troopers beginning today. "This must be a smooth transition and one that does not impact negatively on our ability to serve and protect our citizens."

He said he does not plan to make major changes immediately in personnel or operations. "I want to take time to understand the agency."

Hutchins did, however, appoint Jack Howard, a retired state police captain who served more than 30 years in the department, as his chief of staff. Norris' chief of staff, Robert Biemiller, will serve under Howard, officials said.

Ehrlich left a window for Norris' return when he appointed Hutchins as acting superintendent Wednesday. But the governor said yesterday he did not know if it was likely that he would rehire Norris.

"No one can answer that question. We don't know how it's going to play out. There will be a trial," Ehrlich said. "Complete exoneration in life means you should get your job back." But a plea deal, he said, would not constitute such exoneration.

Ehrlich said he would appoint a permanent superintendent within a year. "It's in everyone's interest to move this process along," he said.

Hutchins said it didn't matter to him whether he served for a short or long time. "I'm the superintendent, whether it's for 60 days, six months or six years. ... We'll go forward."

Today, Hutchins will meet with union leaders who represent troopers - a significant event, since Norris often had difficulties with state labor groups.

"I think it's a good sign that [Hutchins] wants to meet quickly," said Dan Poist, executive director of the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance. "It looks like he wants to work together as a team. ... That's what it's going to take."

Kirk Daugherty, president of the Maryland Troopers Association, said Hutchins seems well-respected and well-liked. "He was known for being very fair, very knowledgeable and capable," said Daugherty, a retired trooper who remembers Hutchins' days on the force.

Hutchins, a father of two and grandfather of two, served at barracks in Waldorf, North East, Bel Air and Forestville during his 19-year state police career. He also helped develop the department's special tactical assault team and was the commander of the police academy for two years before he retired.

"He's a natural," said Peter Edge, a retired sergeant who served as master of ceremonies for Hutchins' retirement party. "He's very focused, very bright, very fair, very military, but without being overbearing. ... He commands a quiet respect that's hard to come by."

During a meeting with department brass yesterday, Hutchins asked them to have every trooper and civilian - from major to janitor - list three things they think are being done well and three things that need improvement or need to be refocused.

"Some things we'll be able to address right away," he said. "Some things, like [upgrading] the radio system, will be longer-term goals."

Although Hutchins has identified homeland security and drug interdiction as priorities, he spent some of yesterday dealing with the smaller details, too.

He will be fitted for a police uniform next week. And he has been asked what color he wants his office painted. Norris' personal items had been removed by yesterday afternoon.

Hutchins' wife, Jacqueline A. Speelman, is a trooper who provides security to state legislators. But the new superintendent said yesterday that should not pose a conflict of interest.

"There are many layers between her and my new position," Hutchins said, adding that he would not make any decisions directly involving her work.

Members of the legislature lauded Hutchins' appointment as superintendent yesterday. Hutchins, a delegate from 1995 until February, when he was appointed to head Veterans Affairs, was a highly regarded General Assembly memer.

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