O'Malley to name head of police

Sheridan expected to leave Balto. County

May 31, 2007|By ANDREW A. GREEN | ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTER

Gov. Martin O'Malley will announce today that he is nominating Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan to head the Maryland State Police, moving to replace a commander who had fallen out of favor with the union that represents state troopers, sources familiar with the plans said.

Sheridan, 63, who served for 30 years in the state police before becoming county police chief in 1996, is widely credited with helping to stem a crime wave in Baltimore County and with improving community policing methods. Both violent crimes and property crimes have dropped significantly during his decade in Towson.

"When I came in, crime statistics were going up," said U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who hired Sheridan while serving as Baltimore County executive. "But he's just such an outstanding manager, in my opinion one of the best police chiefs in the country, and I think the statistics show that. He's never let the standards down, he holds people accountable for performance, and he's always believed that with good training, you get quality people."

Sheridan will replace Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins, 61, who took over the state police when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s first superintendent, Edward T. Norris, resigned amid felony charges stemming from his tenure as Baltimore police chief.

At the time, state troopers welcomed Hutchins, a former member of the House of Delegates from Southern Maryland, saying he brought expertise in both law enforcement and Annapolis politics.

But by the end of Ehrlich's term, Hutchins had lost the allegiance of the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance, the union that represents state police troopers, as well as Natural Resources Police and other law enforcement officers. The group endorsed O'Malley in last year's election.

Union President Ed Eicher said yesterday that the troopers will back new leadership.

"We would certainly be in support of the governor making any changes," said Eicher, who served on O'Malley's transition team.

Eicher said the consensus among troopers is that Hutchins has not been supportive of the union and has not provided a sense of leadership and direction in the department.

"There's been talk of a strategic plan for three years, and it never came to fruition," he said. "The union asked for a copy of the strategic plan, and we've never been provided with the plan and never have been told by anybody that they've actually seen the plan."

A spokeswoman for Hutchins said she had been instructed to refer questions to the governor's office. O'Malley's office issued an advisory yesterday saying the governor would make an announcement this afternoon at the state police headquarters in Pikesville about the future of the department, but Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for the governor, declined to elaborate on that.

O'Malley has close ties to the Baltimore County government - County Executive James T. Smith Jr. was a major supporter in the election, and the governor's brother, Peter O'Malley, serves as Smith's chief of staff. A Smith spokesman did not return phone messages yesterday. Sheridan's spokesman said the chief would decline to comment until today's announcement.

The state police agency has an annual budget of $313 million and a staff of 2,500. The Baltimore County Police Department has a budget of about $290 million and a staff of 2,500.

Despite opposition from a union that backed O'Malley's election last fall, Hutchins survived much longer than most other members of Ehrlich's Cabinet. With Hutchins' departure, only one of Ehrlich's Cabinet nominees, Bruce F. Tuxill, the adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, will remain. State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who served throughout Ehrlich's term, will also stay in the Cabinet, but her post is filled by the state School Board, not the governor.

Sheridan, a Parkville native, is a graduate of Loyola College and served in the Army National Guard. During his 30-year career at the state police, he rose to become head of the Bureau of Drug Enforcement before retiring amid a leadership reshuffling in 1995.

Ruppersberger brought Sheridan to Towson shortly thereafter to help improve safety in the schools and a year later named him police chief.

During his tenure, Sheridan has faced some high-profile crimes, including a 2004 school shooting in Randallstown and a 2000 hostage standoff in Dundalk that resulted in six deaths, including that of the perpetrator, Joseph C. Palczynski.

But those cases have been the exception rather than the rule for Sheridan, a soft-spoken professional who tends to shy away from the limelight.

Since he was named chief, crime in Baltimore County has dropped significantly. According to FBI statistics, Baltimore County violent crime in 2005 (the most recent year available) was down by nearly one-fourth from 1996, Sheridan's first year on the job. Property crime declined by a third in that time.

"The state is gaining a fantastic chief," Baltimore County Council Chairman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley said.

Smith will now have to pick a new chief to replace one who had few detractors in the county. County officials said Smith plans to name the department's Col. James W. Johnson, operations bureau commander and a member of the force since 1979, as chief.

Ruppersberger, who has maintained close ties with Sheridan, said the police department is in good enough shape that it will be able to weather a transition without difficulty.

andy.green@baltsun.com

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