Transit authority chief quits

Announcement comes day after new boss ends celebrity escorts at BWI

January 27, 2007|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Reporter

Gary W. McLhinney quit yesterday as chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police -- one day after his new boss ended his practice of assigning armed officers to escort sports and entertainment celebrities to and from gates at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

He will be replaced by Marcus Brown, the Baltimore Police Department's deputy commissioner for operations, Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said yesterday.

McLhinney said yesterday that his resignation was not prompted by Porcari's decision to end the escorts, nor was he asked to resign. "It is a change of administrations," he said, referring to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who took office last week.

McLhinney, who for years headed the labor union representing Baltimore police officers, was hired by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. after he delivered the organization's endorsement to the Republican in the 2002 election. McLhinney had no previous police command experience.

The transportation authority police force, with nearly 500 sworn officers and 100 civilian employees, has jurisdiction over the port of Baltimore, BWI, state toll facilities and some stretches of Interstate 95. It is the seventh-largest police force in Maryland and is second in size to the Maryland State Police among state law enforcement agencies.

McLhinney said he would stay in law enforcement but would not be specific. "I have a lot of opportunities out there," he said.

In an e-mail to members of the department, McLhinney said his department's handling of some high-profile incidents, including the Oct. 18, 2005, closure of the tunnels under Baltimore Harbor, "let the nation know of our excellence."

On that day, McLhinney ordered the Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels closed because authorities had received a tip that terrorists were planning to bomb the facilities.

The shutdown led to huge backups and nationwide news coverage, but no bomb was found, and federal officials later described the tip as unsubstantiated. Then-Mayor O'Malley initially expressed frustration that the city was not informed of the decision, while Ehrlich and other state officials defended McLhinney's actions.

McLhinney also praised his department's role in providing security at BWI and the port, though his record at both facilities came into question in the past four years.

In 2005, The Sun reported that the morale of police protecting the port was being affected by low staffing levels and that police boats were often moored rather than used on patrol. The article also documented several security problems at the port, including a lack of working alarms, the use of dummy security cameras and gaps in fences.

After the article appeared, McLhinney set out to ferret out the newspaper's sources and identified Officer George Tarburton Jr. as one of them. He then sought to fire Tarburton, but eventually settled for the officer's resignation last year.

Last year, current and former officers at BWI complained that they were often assigned to escort sports and entertainment celebrities -- some with close ties to high department officials -- between parking areas and gates.

Other major airports said they did not give celebrities special treatment. As part of an effort to explain the practice, McLhinney released hundreds of pages of documents giving details of the escorts -- including those of government officials.

The release of the documents, which included such details as the names of Secret Service agents assigned to President Bush's family, went far beyond the scope of a public information request by The Sun.

Brown, 42, joined the city Police Department in 1992 and has served in SWAT, organized crime and internal affairs units. He was also a commander of the Northwestern District.

He rose to the department's No. 2 position under Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm in January 2005 and implemented crime-fighting strategies that focused additional police resources on some of the city's most violent areas.

Porcari said that as operations chief, Brown oversaw the activities of about 3,000 of the force's 3,200 officers.

"Anyone who knows him knows that he is a consummate professional and that he will be able to take this force to the next level," Porcari said.

Brown is a Pennsylvania State University graduate who also holds a law degree from the University of Baltimore. As deputy commissioner, he also oversaw the department's computer-intensive Comstat program for tracking crime patterns.

Brown said he expects to employ some Comstat techniques in his next post.

"The accountability Comstat puts forward would work in any agency," he said.

McLhinney is the second high-ranking official of the transportation authority to depart this week. On Monday, Executive Secretary Trent Kittleman submitted her resignation.

Kittleman said yesterday that her departure was the result of "a mutual meeting of the minds" after a conversation with Porcari. Though she had previously stated a willingness to stay on as head of the toll agency, she said the meeting was "very professional" and "very nice."

But as a member of the Howard County Republican Central Committee and staunch backer of Ehrlich, Kittleman said, "it is not as if I am a nonpolitical person." Kittleman said McLhinney did a "phenomenal" job as chief but that he too was seen as an "Ehrlich person."

McLhinney called his four years at the agency "every cop's dream job."

He told his officers that they had made "a difference," boasting that they had increased drunken driving arrests by 40 percent, traffic citations by 54 percent, drug arrests by 207 percent, criminal arrests by 100 percent and handgun arrests by 1,000 percent.

Sun staff members Peter Hermann and Gus Sentementes contributed to this article.

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