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Candidate for chief gets rave reviews

September 22, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

About two years ago, members of a northeast Baltimore neighborhood association heard their community police officer was being transferred.

The residents had formed a bond with their neighborhood cop and didn't want to lose him, so they went to Arthur R. Smith, commander of the Baltimore City Police Department's Northeast District.

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"We asked him not to transfer the officer and he didn't," said Baltimore City Councilwoman Lois Garey, a resident of Northeast Baltimore.

"He left him there and earned the trust of the community," Garey said.

Smith, a major in the Baltimore department, has been offered Hagerstown's police chief position pending the outcome of a background check, Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said Wednesday.

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Bruchey said the city probably will issue a statement Friday about a new police chief.

Although Smith had not accepted the position as of Wednesday afternoon, some Baltimore leaders were mourning his apparent departure.

The Baltimore City police officers union leader, politicians and community association leaders had only good things to say about Smith, a Baltimore police officer for almost 26 years.

"You guys got real lucky," Garey said.

Garey said Smith is always accessible and is responsive to the community.

Judy Fritsche, executive director of HARBEL Community Organization Inc., an umbrella group for more than 20 neighborhood associations in Northeast Baltimore, said Smith is "very approachable ... people oriented."

"If somebody calls him, he gets back to them," Fritsche said.

"All the communities in the Northeast will be sad to see him go."

Gary McLhinney, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, called Smith "a good man. He's a fair man. The police officers will enjoy working for him and the citizens will respect him."

McLhinney said Smith would bring a lot of experience with him to Hagerstown.

During his career in the Baltimore City Police Department, Smith has spent time in the tactical, personnel and criminal investigation divisions. He has been in charge of Baltimore's Northeastern District for almost three years.

The Northeastern District has a diverse population ranging from suburban to poor and urban. More than 140,000 people live in the district.

Smith oversees a division with 208 officers. The Hagerstown Police Department has 96 officers.

Smith's experience also impressed Hagerstown's Mayor and City Council.

"There was nothing that didn't impress me about the major," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said.

"I hope he accepts (the position) as soon as possible," Metzner said. "We needed him to start yesterday."

Police Capt. Robert Hart has been interim-chief of the department since former Chief Dale Jones resigned in May. Jones now heads the law enforcement branch of the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, Md.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure said he was so impressed by Smith that by the end of their interview, "I wanted him to deputize me."

"This man generates excitement when he talks," McClure said.

McClure said he was especially impressed by how prepared Smith was for his interview with the Mayor and City Council.

McClure said Smith drove around Hagerstown the night before his interview and noticed many of the problems residents and council members complain about, such as groups of people loitering on street corners.

"He was saying all the things we were looking for," McClure said.

On Wednesday morning, Smith, 49, said he was asked by city officials to refrain from commenting on the job until a formal announcement has been made.

McClure, Metzner and Bruchey said they did not know what Smith's salary would be or when he would assume his duties, if hired.

Staff writer Marlo Barnhart contributed to this story.

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