Anne Arundel County Chief of Police James E. Teare Sr. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
The sudden departure of Anne Arundel County Police Chief James Teare Sr. poses a challenge for the county, but the change also presents an opportunity to turn around a department beset by controversy.
Adding to the difficulty of finding a qualified leader for a department of more than 600 sworn officers is the continuing misconduct case against County Executive John R. Leopold. Officers have also complained of internal strife, low morale and equipment problems.
Teare's retirement was announced Wednesday by the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor, which said it was ending a criminal investigation into Teare. Leopold is fighting a five-count criminal indictment accusing him of using his police security detail for personal and political gain.
His trial is scheduled for September, and the outcome could determine whether he completes his second term, which will end in 2014. In any case, the timing could spell a short tenure for a new chief if the next county executive decides to change police leadership.
An acting chief, Maj. Pamela Davis, has been named to take over Aug. 1. She could not be reached for comment.
On Thursday, a spokesman for Leopold, Dave Abrams, backed away from a previous statement that the county would conduct a nationwide search. The scope and timeline for hiring have not been determined, he said.
The county's charter says someone can remain an acting department head for 60 days, a window that could close just after Leopold's September trial.
Abrams said the administration can ask the County Council for an extension.
"We want to keep all of our options open in order to receive the best candidates possible, whether they are from within the department or from outside," Abrams said.
L. Douglas Ward, director of the Division of Public Safety Leadership in the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, said the county has "a good department, basically.
"I think there are going to be plenty of people around who would want to work there," he said.
Nevertheless, he added, "It's going to be difficult to get somebody to commit until you get a stable governing structure in place, or a contract that does not allow them to be fired for some time."
He said it can be an advantage to be hired to rein in a troubling situation. A new leader can set fresh rules and policies, groom officers who have potential, and secure resources for equipment and training.
"A new chief can come in and say, 'I'm happy to come in and do this, but I need some resources and some support on this,'" he said.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which has been hired to assist in the search to replace retiring Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, said the Arundel post may well appeal to a risk-taker.
"That is how I would approach it if we were doing the process," Wexler said. "You need to understand what the issues are, put some accountability into these areas and move on. I really don't think this is an insurmountable problem for Anne Arundel County."
But he said applicants might want to see Leopold's legal problem resolved first: "Let's just say that all things being considered, you want the boss who is going to hire you to be the boss you are going to be working for."
County Council Chairman Derek Fink, a Pasadena Republican, agreed that the uncertainty comes with positives and negatives.
"It's really a chance to put your footprint on the entire department, to raise morale, and to make it your own," he said. "I think it's a big challenge, and I'm sure there's someone out there who's willing to take on that challenge."
County Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat, said he expects that it will be difficult to find a strong chief before Leopold's case is resolved.
"I think it's delusional to think that any accomplished police administrator would want to take this job right now," he said. "In 2014, I think there would be a strong likelihood that the next county executive would pick someone different. I think there may be a sentiment out there that anybody picked by John Leopold is not the person for the job."
Councilman John Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, said a nationwide search for a chief would be foolish because an outsider would know nothing about the county.
"People should be promoted within the department. You demoralize people who want to get ahead if you go outside," he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.
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