- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson yesterday appointed Norfolk Police Chief Melvin C. High to head the county's troubled police department, replacing Chief Gerald M. Wilson.
Chief Wilson, a 19-year veteran of the force, was confirmed by the County Council in July, but his job status has been uncertain since Mr. Johnson took office in December.
While saying Chief Wilson was one of the "strongest candidates for the job," Mr. Johnson said he was looking for someone "from the outside who could be a bit detached in evaluating the issues."
The county executive said he conducted a nationwide search that resulted in interviews with up to a dozen candidates, but that he made up his mind the first time he spoke with Chief High.
"It was important that we pick a leader that could really make a difference in terms of where we want to go," Mr. Johnson said. "The moment we talked, I knew this was the person I wanted to be my police chief. I made one offer and that was to Chief High."
Mr. Johnson said he would be happy to have Chief Wilson, 38, remain with the department but would work to ensure retirement benefits if he chooses to leave. Chief Wilson, who did not attend yesterday's announcement, is not eligible for retirement until he has 20 years' tenure.
Chief High, 58, became chief of the Norfolk Police Department's 748 sworn members in 1993 following his retirement from the District's Metropolitan Police Department as an assistant chief. As the department's second in command, Chief High was one of two finalists for the job of D.C. police chief in 1993, when Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly tapped Fred Thomas for the position after Chief Isaac Fulwood stepped down.
Chief High said his focus on community policing was responsible for bringing the homicide rate in Norfolk down from about 90 killings per year to about 30. He said the homicide case closure rate there hovers between 80 percent and 90 percent.
In Norfolk, published reports said Chief High was criticized for being too demanding, adding he had suspended a number of officers who missed their court appearances.
D.C. Executive Assistant Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald, who served under Chief High when he was a captain in the 6th District described him as "straightforward."
"I think he'll do very well," Chief Fitzgerald said. "He's a very thorough, hard-working guy."
Chief High takes over a 1,430-member department beset by accusations of excessive force by officers and currently is the subject of two U.S. Justice Department investigations into police brutality.
As the county's top prosecutor from 1994 until 2002, Mr. Johnson was heavily criticized by police, who felt he was overzealous in pursuing cases of police misconduct.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, which represents the county's officers, was a frequent critic of Mr. Johnson. The union endorsed County Council member M.H. "Jim" Estepp for county executive in the 2002 campaign, rather than Mr. Johnson.
The union's president, Anthony M. Walker, was unavailable for comment yesterday. His office said he was in New Jersey attending an officer's funeral.
Chief High said yesterday he has not spoken to Mr. Johnson "with great specificity" regarding the problems. But he said he plans to give county officers the "tools, training and discipline" they need to do their jobs and to be a leader by example.
"My expectation of officers is that they do a great job and they don't do it in violation of the rules," Chief High said.
Chief High was raised in Union County, Miss. He graduated from Tennessee State University with a degree in biology and taught high school science in Calhoun City, Miss. He earned a master's degree in business and public administration from Southeastern University and served as an adjunct professor of criminal justice administration at the University of the District of Columbia.
His appointment must be approved by the County Council, but Mr. Johnson said he expects Chief High to take over within 60 days.

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