William J. McMahon was named yesterday chief of the Howard County Police Department, a position he has held in an acting capacity for six months.
It was the first appointment as county executive made by Ken Ulman, who was sworn in Monday night along with five County Council members.
"I wanted to make sure that my first official act ... was an important one," Ulman said.
He said he could not "think of a person who is better suited and better equipped" for the position. He called McMahon "the right person."
McMahon, 43, has served two decades with the department and was elevated to acting chief in June, when chief G. Wayne Livesay resigned to run unsuccessfully for County Council.
McMahon said the county is fortunate to have excellent schools, a superb library system and strong recreational facilities. But he said, "none of that happens unless people are safe and feel safe."
He and Ulman promised to initiate programs to help at-risk youth, particularly middle school children.
"We are locking up young kids for doing robberies or other really violent crimes," McMahon said. "We'll continue to do what we need to, but I don't think a society generally wants its police department to be locking up a lot of its kids."
McMahon said crime and gang affiliation statistics have increased among the youth. He said the county must have "preventative" programs and "find better activities for younger people to be involved - and it's not just sports. Sports serve some, but not all."
He also said the department must work more closely with two segments that have increased greatly in the county - senior citizens and immigrants.
McMahon noted that more than 100 languages are spoken in the county. That produces communication problems that are not restricted to language.
"There are cultural issues involved," he said. "Some come from countries where the police aren't trained to be Officer Friendly. We're building those inroads so people feel safe and secure. We've done a lot of outreach in that area, but there's more we can do."
The aging population, he said, also is more vulnerable to fraud and computer crime. He also said the elderly often have the perception that they are not secure.
"There is a greater concern for their well-being and their safety," McMahon said. "Are they truly more at risk? I don't know. But if they don't feel safe, that's an issue."
He said the department would consider a series of initiatives for the elderly, including traffic safety training.
The intent, McMahon said, would not be "to take them off the road, but to make sure that they recognize what the physical limitations are as they grow older and to help them negotiate that change in their life."
The greatest internal challenge for the department, he said, is staffing.
Attrition and retirements, he said, could sharply reduce the number of officers, and he noted that everyone at the rank of captain or above would be eligible for retirement in three years.
Ulman has said that staffing for the department will be a priority.