Annapolis gets interim police chief

Former Baltimore commander Pristoop to lead city department as homicide rate spikes

April 12, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer announced yesterday a slate of new leadership for the city Police Department, including an interim chief, the supervisor of a new state-backed anti-crime program and a volunteer adviser in the form of a nationally known former New York City police commissioner.

Michael A. Pristoop, who has run the Department of General Services for less than eight months after 21 years with the Baltimore Police Department, has been tapped to take charge of the Annapolis department starting next week.

He will get help from an unlikely source: Howard Safir, who as New York police commissioner and ally of former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was credited with a 40 percent drop in crime. He lives in Annapolis and has offered to help the department in an advisory capacity.

The state capital, with five homicides in less than four months, is on pace to break its homicide record for the second straight year. It recently became the target of an initiative called Capital City Safe Streets, which draws on federal and state resources to crack down on offenders at every level. State officials, including Gov. Martin O'Malley, hope it will serve as a model for other municipalities.

Yesterday's announcements also included the selection of the program's coordinator, Beth Hart, an intelligence analyst who was previously manager of Baltimore's citywide system of surveillance cameras.

"We've got our neck on the line [with Capital City Safe Streets] to show what works and what doesn't work, and to quantify those things that really make a difference," Moyer said. "We're moving forward with really good people."

Fourteen-year chief Joseph F. Johnson, the only African-American to lead the Annapolis Police Department, is set to leave in June but has been working on a limited basis since health problems forced him to step aside briefly last year. He did not appear at yesterday's news conference.

Though city officials are continuing with a nationwide search for the next police chief - at $128,000 last year, the highest-paid position in city government - Moyer said yesterday that she would like to keep Pristoop. For his part, the 42-year-old Baltimore County resident said he wants the job as well.

"It is my hope to become the permanent chief," he said.

During his brief stay with the Department of General Services, Pristoop, who is also an attorney, oversaw an agency of 200 officers who are responsible for providing security for state office buildings, members of the General Assembly, O'Malley's executive staff and state employees. As chief, he was involved with the development of the safe streets program, which calls on the Department of General Services Police to expand its jurisdiction to respond to city crime.

Before that, Pristoop was a major with the Baltimore Police Department, where he was commander of the Northern District.

"He's a tireless worker and very passionate," said the current northern commander, Maj. Ross Buzzuro. "He was always deliberate as far as his strategy and deployment response to crime and to citizens' concerns. Annapolis is very fortunate to have him as a chief."

Despite its reputation as a tourist destination, Pristoop said, Annapolis faces many of the same challenges as Baltimore in its troubled neighborhoods. He said targeted patrols and implementation of more high-tech equipment are among his priorities as he learns more about the agency.

Safir, whom Giuliani once referred to as "the greatest police commissioner in New York City history" and who also served as the city fire commissioner, lives with his wife in Annapolis' historic district.

As police commissioner from 1996 to 2000, he expanded anti-drug initiatives, installed security cameras in city housing projects and called for taking DNA samples from everyone who was arrested. His tenure was also marred by accusations that the department violated the civil rights of residents - particularly minorities - and the dominant police union voted no-confidence in his leadership in 1999.

After stepping down, Safir became CEO of SafirRosetti, a security consulting group. The company received a $42,500 contract in 2004 to study the Annapolis Fire Department, according to the company Web site.

But Safir's work for the city Police Department will be free, city officials said.

"I am volunteering my help and experience in an effort to assure that Annapolis remains a safe and vibrant city to live in and visit," Safir said in a statement.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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