New state police chief a believer in tradition

Hutchins has team assessing department, then will make changes

March 15, 2004|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

When Edward T. Norris became superintendent of the Maryland State Police, he created a homeland security bureau and introduced troopers to Comstat, a crime-tracking system he brought with him from New York.

To go with the agency's tan-and-brown uniform, the former Baltimore police commissioner ordered a leather jacket, saying other troopers could do the same.

When Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins was confirmed as the new superintendent after Norris pleaded guilty to federal corruption and tax charges last week, he made it clear that homeland security would remain a priority. But he said he won't be relying on Comstat as much.

And troopers won't be wearing leather jackets.

"In 69 years, the state police uniform hasn't changed much," said Hutchins. "I think it's something the people of Maryland expect."

Hutchins, who spent 19 years as a trooper and state police commander before he retired in 1994 to serve in the Maryland House of Delegates, has no objection to being described as traditional.

"That's who I am," said Hutchins, whose nomination was unanimously confirmed by the Senate last week after he had served for three months as the interim superintendent. "I think that's why people join this agency, because of its traditions and legacy."

Hutchins, a Vietnam veteran, was appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as secretary of veterans affairs last year. He was named acting state police superintendent in December when Norris was indicted.

Hutchins put together an "assessment team" of about 20 retired and current state police commanders and civilians, officials from other law enforcement agencies and military commanders.

"I've been away for a while and I need to get a sense of where we fit in, especially since the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks," Hutchins said last week.

Although some troopers have criticized him for relying too heavily on the counsel of outsiders, Hutchins said, "They're not just a bunch of retirees. Many of them led this agency to where it is today."

By early next month, he expects the team to submit its findings, which he will take to his senior commanders to form a development plan for the governor's approval. By early July, Hutchins expects he'll be ready to make structural changes

Already, though, Hutchins has made personnel changes, replacing most of Norris' top commanders. One of Norris' lieutenant colonels was demoted. And two top civilian bureau heads have stepped down.

Hutchins said expanding drug interdiction teams and increasing drunken-driving enforcement will be among the agency's priorities. And, he said, homeland security will remain an integral part of the mission.

Terrorism wasn't the concern for state police when Hutchins was a trooper that it is today. Still, as a trooper working patrol out of the Forestville barracks, Hutchins stopped a car in 1979 whose driver turned out to be the highest-ranking Soviet KGB agent ever known to travel in the United States.

"It's about being out there," said Hutchins. "Our traffic stops, criminal and accident investigations - all these things support homeland security."

Hutchins said the Comstat system, which uses computer data to analyze crime patterns, has benefits but that he will not use it as a high-level management tool.

"I believe it needs to be managed at the lowest level possible," he said.

Hutchins said he also plans to address staffing shortages and to upgrade computer and radio equipment. One of his main goals is to get funding to increase the 1,550 trooper force by several hundred.

"We need at least 1,800 troopers at a minimum if we're going to do more than react to accidents," he said.

Union leaders, who sparred with Norris, are already praising the new leader.

"Hutchins is more concerned with morale because it affects productivity," said Dan Poist, executive director of the State Law Enforcement Labor Alliance, who was often critical of Norris. "Troopers don't need to be threatened or intimidated."

Although some will miss Norris' style and emphasis on productivity, union leaders say most troopers are relieved to move forward.

"We expect great things from Colonel Hutchins," said Kirk Daugherty, president of the Maryland Troopers Association.

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