- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

Prince George's County [Md.]Police Chief Gerald M. Wilson yesterday said his priority as chief will be to restore the credibility of his police force in the eyes of the officers and the community.

Chief Wilson, 38, begins his term as interim chief today, succeeding Chief John S. Farrell, who announced his retirement Feb. 12.

The new chief said he plans to meet with every officer below the rank of lieutenant on Tuesday as a first step to better communication and understanding.

"It's going to be some give and take," said Chief Wilson, an 18-year-veteran of the force.

"What I intend to do is let their energy, their concerns, help us focus on where we need to go," he said.

Under his predecessor, the department was beset by accusations of officer misconduct and saw the homicide count escalate from 71 in 2000 to 116 in 2001. At this time last year, there were 19 homicides in the county compared with 20 this year. The county has consistently remained second to Baltimore City in the number of homicides in Maryland.

Chief Wilson, a lifelong county resident, said he hopes to see positive results by September, but resists predicting reductions in homicides or robberies, which he referred to as "campaign promises."

"Realistically, I'm not in a position to do that until I gauge where we are as an organization and how fast and how far we can move forward," he said.

Rather than petitioning for 350 more officers for the 1,420-member force as Chief Farrell had suggested, he said he plans to work to get the most out of the officers he has.

Chief Wilson and Chief Farrell introduced Operation Maximum Effort on Feb. 11, a redeployment plan that will put 157 officers assigned to special units on the streets in targeted high-crime areas. Many of those areas fall inside the Beltway, along the border with the District.

Chief Wilson said the results of the operation will be evaluated after 90 days, but likely not extended. He said it is certain there will be some sort of long-range increase in patrols, though.

Anthony Hutto, program coordinator for the mid-Atlantic region of Amnesty International, said the new chief needs to heed the call of the community.

"Chief Wilson has to be a reformer," he said. "I think the jury is still out on whether or not he'll do that."

Mr. Hutto said the new chief can prove he is serious about reform by embracing an ongoing U.S. Justice Department investigation into departmental civil rights violations and supporting reforms to the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights.

Most notably, the law protects police officers, shielding them from answering questions for 10 days when they are involved in shooting incidents.

County Executive Wayne K. Curry has supported amending the law, and Chief Wilson agrees.

"If the state legislature makes a determination on behalf of the citizens they represent that they should amend the bill of rights, more power to them," Chief Wilson said. "If officers are being held accountable and if the tone is set, then the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights is moot."

Fred Thomas, the county's public safety director, described Chief Wilson as "the best man for the job." As commander of the Bureau of Patrol, he already supervised nearly two-thirds of the department's officers.

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