Md. transportation authority police void at top enters year two

August 01, 2012|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County police filled their void at the police chief position after just a few weeks. Baltimore should name the successor to Frederick H. Bealefeld within the new few weeks, if not days. 

But for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police Department, their void at the top continues a year after Marcus Brown left to take control of the state police force. The lingering vacancy has raised questions over whether officials are contemplating a merger of the agency and other state law enforcement agencies into the state police. 

State officials confirm that such a move is being contemplated, but said it has no bearing on the lack of movement on naming a permanent chief for the MdTA police. Matthew Gallagher, the chief of staff to Gov.Martin O'Malley, said in an interview that the state has twice come close to naming new leaders, only to have those talks dissolve.

Maj. Michael Kundrat, the patrol commander, is listed as the acting chief. 

"We're actively searching for a permanent chief for the transportation authority police, and we've been close on a few occasions," Gallagher said. "We have strong acting leadership in which we're confident, and we hope to have this situation resolved soon."

The transportation authority police has about 500 sworn officers and 100 civilian employees, and they are tasked with patrolling major bridges and tunnels, as well as the areas including the Port of Baltimore andBaltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport - duties that have taken on increased importance (and funding) since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A possible merger of the agency has been explored in the past and is currently under consideration, said Kristen Mahoney, the former director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention in an interview earlier this year. It could involve the police forces of the  Maryland Transit Administration, the Department of Natural Resources, and others. 

"I think you can't just contemplate the MdTa when there's any number of other law enforcement agencies that have the same kind of value in a potential merger," Mahoney said. "The assets to be able to collectively analyze state issues and react and respond - it makes more sense under a unified command."

But she said there has not been a serious assessment of how the details would shake out, including issues such as pensions and command structure. Before her departure, she said, her office was working on those answering those questions so the governor's office and legislature could then decide whether it's a path the state wants to take. State officials said the review continues.

The transportation authority police union president said officers are open to merging with the state police, but the merger to be "complete - that we all become state troopers, get the same benefits, the same retirement system, and are treated as if we're Maryland state troopers," said Fraternal Order of Police president Shane Schapiro.

"We don't want to be put on paper under the Maryland State Police - all that's going to do is give them access to the transportation authority's money," he said.

In the meantime, Schapiro said, officers remain frustrated with the opening at the chief position. Schapiro said morale is down, and officers want to know who's in charge. "It's much like a baseball team without a skipper," he said. This morning, he posted a message on the union's Twitter account: "MDTA Police left "Home Alone" without a Chief for 1yr today by the Governor."

"There's certain things the department needs to do, and it's a little hard without a chief of police," he said.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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