Anne Arundel executive seeks outside view of troubled police department

Announces task force with Harford, Montgomery county officers

May 03, 2013|By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman is asking law enforcement professionals from other jurisdictions to examine the county's troubled police department.

Since she took over in February from disgraced former executive John R. Leopold, Neuman said Friday, her office has received a steady stream of anonymous notes alleging problems in the agency.

Leopold was convicted of criminal misconduct in office for directing his police protection detail to perform political and personal tasks.

More recently, the police chief Leopold appointed was accused of using anti-gay slurs and changing the assignments of officers who testified against the former executive during his criminal trial in January.

"We've had one negative story after another about our police department," Neuman said. "At some point, it has to come to an end."

She announced a task force that she said would include police officers from Harford and Montgomery counties to study the Anne Arundel force.

"Unfortunately, there seems to be an overarching problem in the department, and I want to figure out what it is."

A police union official said he welcomed the effort — if it focuses on rooting out problems.

But Officer O'Brien Atkinson, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70, wondered whether the actual goal was to silence the sources who have made the problems public.

In a statement announcing the task force, Neuman complained of "inappropriate anonymous correspondence citing unsubstantiated allegations not supported by facts or evidence."

Atkinson said Neuman was "doing the right thing if she's trying to root out the issues."

But "if the task force is trying to root out who the whistle-blowers are," he said, "that's a little more problematic."

Neuman said she wants police officers and employees to feel comfortable speaking about the department's problems. She said the anonymous notes could suggest that "folks don't feel comfortable speaking freely."

One tipster wrote last month that Chief Larry Tolliver had retaliated against the former members of Leopold's police detail who testified against him by moving them into less desirable jobs, and had used an anti-gay slur. Tolliver denied any wrongdoing and said he supports "a culture of diversity."

Neuman said Friday that the county had completed an investigation of those allegations. She said Tolliver acknowledged making offensive remarks, but the accusation that he punished the detectives who testified against Leopold was not substantiated. Tolliver remains on the job.

A police spokesman said Friday that Tolliver supports Neuman's task force.

"He feels this is the best course of action for moving the agency forward," Lt. T.J. Smith said. "Anything that subverts the growth and progress of the agency will not be tolerated."

Neuman said details of the task force's work will be ironed out on Monday. She has not set a timetable for the task force to make recommendations.

County Councilman Jamie Benoit applauded Neuman's announcement. The Crownsville Democrat had called on the new executive to investigate problems in the department in light of the recent accusations against Tolliver.

"If it's productive and works as I think the county executive intends it to work, she'll get some recommendations for how to fix the problems," Benoit said.

He said a cloud still hangs over the department from Leopold's tenure.

"I think things aren't any better in the Police Department, and I had hoped they would be," Benoit said.

County Council Chairman Jerry Walker said he's glad outside agencies will be conducting the investigation.

"Given the fact that we've been through some challenging times in the Police Department, I don't think it's a bad idea to take a look at how things are being run and what's happening there," the Gambrills Republican said.

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