Prince George’s County Police Chief John S. Farrell yesterday announced his retirement, ending a six-year tenure marked by improvements in the department’s management but also continued accusations of excessive force by county officers.
Chief Farrell sent a letter to County Executive Wayne K. Curry saying he would step down March 1. He said he would spend more time with his family and pursue other interests.
Mr. Curry said he received news of Chief Farrell’s departure with mixed emotions and denied emphatically that the police chief was forced out of his job.
“He has served well and ably here in Prince George’s County, and he has served with my confidence and with my respect and loyalty throughout his tenure,” Mr. Curry said in a phone interview last night. “I respect his decision to put his family first.”
Mr. Curry added that he would continue to seek change in the department under Chief Farrell’s successor.
“We will continue to devote ourselves to making it better and doing the things necessary to accomplish that,” he said.
Chief Farrell took over in 1995 as chief in the state’s second-largest county, a jurisdiction that trails only Baltimore for the highest annual homicide rate in Maryland.
In his resignation letter, Chief Farrell took credit for installing video cameras in squad cars, the creation of a DNA crime analysis laboratory and streamlining department management.
But it was also during his tenure that the U.S. Department of Justice launched a probe of the county force in September 2000 over charges of officer misconduct. That investigation was started after an unarmed Howard University student was shot and killed by an undercover county officer.
The Washington Post also reported the county police killed more people per officer between 1990 and 2000 than the 50 largest forces in the nation. Officers shot 122 persons and killed 47 almost half of those shot were unarmed.
Chief Farrell said in his letter that police shootings and complaints are at a 15-year low and lashed out against his critics.
“Despite the false statements of detractors and a skeptical and uninformed media, this department now stands as one of the most innovative police forces in the region,” he wrote.
Chief Farrell will be temporarily replaced by Lt. Col. Gerald Wilson, who now heads the department’s patrol division.
Jack Johnson, the county state’s attorney, said Chief Farrell worked initially to bring down crime and was quite successful at it until last year, but his best efforts were thwarted by outside forces.
“A lot of his good intentions were frustrated by the Fraternal Order of Police and others interested in maintaining the status quo,” Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Johnson, who is a candidate to succeed Mr. Curry as county executive, said that reform within the department would be the top priority of his administration, and that the next chief would need to move quickly toward reform as well.
Edythe Flemmings Hall, president of the Prince George’s County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), welcomed Mr. Farrell’s departure, calling it “one more step in the right direction.”
She said Chief Farrell’s attitude that his officers were always right irritated the community. “No one is right 100 percent of the time,” she said.
If officers show a willingness to respond to people’s concerns, Mrs. Flemmings Hall said, the community would welcome them with open arms. She said the next police chief must be willing to admit mistakes.