Saturday, March 29, 2008

RAPS Police Chief

During election cycles, I sometimes see letters to the editor from candidates thanking the people who voted for them. The titles assigned to those letters are always "RAPS __(candidate's name)__". At least that's what I remember them being. What the heck does RAPS mean? Even google doesn't know. Anyway, I believe that today's article in The Capital is RAPSing the police chief. Let's examine it.

The Peerless Rens Club in Eastport holds some special memories for Chief Joseph S. Johnson who retires in June.

Most of my "special memories" involve some sort of chemical compound and at least 1 trip to the emergency room.

In 1994, he was meeting with then-Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins when he got the mayor's nod to become chief of the Annapolis Police Department. It was also the site of his wedding reception 37 years ago.

I know that I haven't been posting regularly, so let me take this chance to hit on one of my biggest issues: the use of the middle initial when publishing someone's name. DOES ANYBODY NOT KNOW WHO MAYOR ALFRED HOPKINS IS? WERE THERE MORE THAN 1 MAYOR AL HOPKINS'? NO. This blog's official position is that there are only 2 instances where publishing the middle initial is acceptable:

George W. Bush
Michael J. Fox

And last night, Chief Johnson returned to the club where community members and local officials said their goodbyes to the chief.

"We love you, we respect you, and we appreciate your leadership," said Carl O. Snowden, the Maryland attorney general's director of civil rights who served as emcee for the evening.

Well, at least Carl Snowden is earning his paycheck.

Chief Johnson announced in February that he will retire after 14 years with the department and more than 40 years of service in public safety.

About 100 people, including elected officials, attended the event last night. "Since he's been here, (the department has) run like a Swiss watch," said Sen. John Astle, D-Annapolis.

Goodness gracious. As Roger Clemems would say, I believe Senator Astle misremembers. Even if certain things were not the chief's fault, the department has been far from a swiss watch. As we speak, I believe they only have 1 cell. 1 cell! And, if someone happens to be arrested, the arresting officer has to spend hours in the booking procedure. On any given night, 5 people are arrested. And since each patrol shift has only a dozen or so officers, on any given night 40% of the patrols are not patrolling but rather are booking suspects. The ratio of supervisors to patrol officers is like 1:1, the homicide investigation unit is comparatively understaffed, and the proportion of vacant positions is 500% higher than in the county. But other than that, Swiss precision.

Chief Johnson has been known throughout his tenure as a man who spoke his mind, which sometimes drew criticism, but also garnered admiration from some.


County Councilman Josh Cohen, D-Annapolis, said he could always count on the chief to speak at community meetings or events. "I knew I could always count on Chief Johnson to say what he thought," he said.

I suppose that decorum requires a recitation of platitudes in a situation like this, but if I were the chief, I would much prefer praise for my accomplishments rather than my bluntness.

Several city council members who attended the event told Chief Johnson they'd like to take him out to lunch."We need to learn from you," said Alderman Sam Shropshire, D-Ward 7.

I do believe that if the issue of the day were what color I should paint my basement, Alderman Shropshire would manage get his name and his opinion on the matter in the paper. Furthermore, he would choose beige.

Col. James Teare, chief of the county Police Department, said he looked to Chief Johnson as a friendly face when he took over the county post in January 2007.

"You look for stable ground, and friendship. I found all of those things in Joseph Johnson," he said.

Chief Johnson is credited with gaining national accreditation for the Annapolis police force in 2003. Only about 10 percent of the nation's police departments, including the county's, tout that ranking.

The only reason why such an accreditation would be important is if there was a proven correlation between accreditation and crime fighting. Good luck finding one.

Sheriff Ron Bateman said it's the sign of a good leader when he has the support of those beneath him. "His troops have the utmost respect for Chief Johnson," he said.

I wish that it was appropriate to call employees "troops" in every industry.

Chief Johnson said the he prides himself that the department has had no major scandals on his watch and has had a good working relationship with neighboring jurisdictions.

The claim that we have a good working relationship with neighboring jurisdictions is insane. I would define neighboring jurisdictions as the Anne Arundel County police, since Annapolis is located in Anne Arundel County. The city doesn't have it's own police academy. No problem, you say, we can just have our friendly county neighbor train our cadets in their academy. Wrong!! The county expresses its "good working relationship" by hiring away the officers that we send to their academy--so much so that now we have to send our cadets to Montgomery and Howard counties. The more accurate quote would be "We have a good working relationship with all neighboring jurisdictions except the one that neighbors us on all sides."

I don't know about the scandal claim--I suppose there are no major scandals that I can remember.

"I leave you a quality, professional police department," he said. And, he said, there are several captains and lieutenants who would be able to be chief someday.

"I suggest not looking too far outside" Annapolis to find a new chief, he said. "I hope the citizens insist on getting someone committed to the 36,000 residents that reside in this city."

I suspect that this comes from the mayor. She has declared that she finds no need for a nationwide police chief search, which is unacceptable. The Mayor's current Director of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs previously worked for the city of Newport, but apparently the city needs not to even consider an outsider for the charge of running its most important department.

Chief Johnson spent 24 years with the Baltimore Police Department before he came to Annapolis in 1991 as a major, and eventually became the city's first African-American police chief.

Born in Birdsville.....


....a tiny south county community near Davidsonville, Chief Johnson grew up in Parole and Eastport, so returning to Annapolis was an easy decision. "It wasn't just an issue of providing public safety. I was home among friends," he told the crowd last night.

Chief Johnson underwent heart bypass surgery last June and took a short leave from the department. He cited health concerns as a reason for his retirement.

Doctors advised him not to return to his job. Following discussions with his family, including his wife, Margaret, and his three adult children, Chief Johnson determined it was time to step down.

He earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Baltimore, and also received management training at the FBI Academy before his stint with the Baltimore police.

He left the Baltimore force as commander of the 1,800 officer patrol division, the agency's largest.

So, there you go.


Anonymous said...

Brian, you are way off base on this one. I have been posted items before about the police and you know that I think it needs change. I do not like the way you choose to make fun of the chief as he is on the way out the door. Chief Johnson took over a police department that was in the stone age back in 1994. Today he leaves a department that is in the middle ages. That is huge! Lets give him the credit he deserves. The trick now is to find a progressive chief that can bring us at least to the industrial revolution. The sad part about Annapolis is that the Chief of Police job is about 80% politics and 20% getting the job done. The next chief must resist the forces on Duke of Glouster Street that would like to run the police department from city hall. Brian, there are lots of things wrong with APD but Joseph S Johnson (middle initial) was not one of them.

Brian Gill said...

I think you are right and I actually tried to focus on the department itself rather than the chief in the post, however I will aknowledge that the phrase "Even if certain things were not the chief's fault" was probably insufficient to convey that theme.

I know the chief has made big steps and I really know that he has to play the hand he is dealt from the mayor and city council.

I am fine with the article praising the chief but I wanted to remind people that there is more work to do in the department.