- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson has reaffirmed his support for the police Chief Melvin C. High, saying he has made progress in reducing violent crime.

“I am keeping Chief High,” Mr. Johnson said Wednesday afternoon, hours after former state Delegate Rushern L. Baker III conceded defeat to the incumbent county executive in the Democratic primary. Mr. Johnson faces no Republican challenger in the general election.

Mr. Johnson made the announcement during a press conference to celebrate his victory against Mr. Baker, who throughout his campaign was critical of Mr. Johnson and Chief High’s stance on combating crime.

Mr. Johnson, 57, said the county’s police budget has increased by $66 million in the past three years and police staffing is at historic high levels.

He has committed to hiring at least 150 new officers every year, and more than 460 new officers have been hired since 2003.

However, the county had a record 173 homicides last year, and violent crimes increased by 15 percent from 2004.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, which represents county police officers, endorsed neither candidate.

The union has a long history with Mr. Johnson. When he was the county’s state’s attorney, the union accused him of overzealously prosecuting police officers accused of wrongdoing.

Still, President Percy O. Alston said the union does not expect problems in working with him or Chief High.

“If [Mr. Johnson] feels that the chief is performing in an exemplary fashion, then it would be beneficial to keep him,” Mr. Alston said. “Chief High and I have a good working relationship. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, but I can say that once we put an issue behind us, it stays there.”

Still, he said the union and the chief “have a lot of issues that we need to address.”

Last summer, the union defended officers against assertions from Mr. Johnson and Chief High that unproductive members on the force were stifling their community-policing program.

Crime has decreased this year, which Mr. Johnson frequently pointed out in his re-election campaign.

There were 61 homicides in mid-July, compared with 84 at the same time in 2005, police said. Fourteen more have occurred since then, which brings the unofficial total to 75 with less than four months remaining in 2006.

Chief High said the number of violent crimes and property crimes also have decreased significantly compared with last year. He also said the police department is reducing the number of auto thefts and establishing a stronger community presence.

Mr. Johnson said his detractors and various attack ads during the campaign obscured the fact that fewer crimes are being committed.

“Campaigns are designed to confuse the issues sometimes, to cause uncertainty among voters,” he said. “We had a little of that going on.”

Mr. Johnson hired Chief High in 2003, one year after he was elected county executive. Chief High arrived amid widespread accusations of police brutality and misconduct that resulted in the county paying millions in settlements and a Justice Department probe.

The probe ended in January 2004 under agreements in which the department admitted no wrongdoing but consented to be monitored for three years.

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