Police chief names 1st black major

23-year veteran reaches second-highest rank in department

August 22, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon has promoted the first African-American to the post of major, the department's second-highest rank.

Maj. Kevin Burnett, 47, formerly the commander of the county's Southern District, will oversee administration, which includes human resources, budget, training and forensic departments, among others.

Maj. Gary Gardner will oversee a new patrol command, and Maj. Merritt Bender, whom McMahon appointed last year, will oversee special operations, including the county's tactical, canine and traffic-enforcement teams.

Burnett, who graduated from Woodlawn High School and Towson University, has been with the department for 23 years and said he chose the agency because he knew it would grow and offer opportunities for advancement. This fiscal year, the department is authorized to hire 32 police officers for a total of 408 sworn positions.

"I always wanted to be in law enforcement," Burnett said. "And I liked the philosophy behind Howard County and Columbia."

Burnett, of Randallstown, has been an assistant football coach at Long Reach High School for 11 years.

A coach who works as a police officer is the consummate role model, Long Reach head coach Pete Hughes told The Sun in a November 2006 article on police officers who coach.

"Before big games, he'll fire up the kids by quoting the law as it relates to defending your property by using any force necessary," Hughes said. "That really gets them going."

Burnett has held many positions in the department, including detective, recruiter and commander of internal affairs.

Burnett has navigated dicey conflicts in his career, most recently serving as the point person in a nasty River Hill community feud between two neighbors that has drawn more than 100 police visits to a small cul-de-sac. Burnett also helped start a program that assigns police officers to county high schools.

"At that time, no one wanted the public to think Howard County needed police officers in the schools," he said.

As Southern District commander, Burnett kept a list of the area's hot spots for crime on a white board in his office.

"We've had to go back into some neighborhoods to deal with the same problems, but in some neighborhoods we've had success," Burnett said. "There's a great sense of accomplishment when a neighborhood improves, but I never take it off the board. It reminds me how far we've come."

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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