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New Smithsburg police chief wants changes in department's image

January 15, 2002

New Smithsburg police chief wants changes in department's image



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI
kimy@herald-mail.com


As Smithsburg's fourth police chief in about as many years, Michael Potter says he plans to earn the public's trust by changing the department's image.

"If we create an atmosphere of professionalism we will have the citizens' confidence and respect," Potter said.

The Smithsburg Town Council voted unanimously to hire Potter, 54, a former Maryland State Police trooper with more than 25 years of experience in law enforcement. He started this month, replacing Ralf Berger, who resigned last year.

One of Potter's first duties as chief was to clean out and organize the police department office, he said.

"My wife helped," said Potter, a U.S. Army veteran and former Hagerstown City Police Officer.

The goal is for the police department's office to be as orderly as a state police barracks, he said.

Maintaining a professional staff will help Potter succeed as police chief, said Homer Myers, who served the town as police chief in the 1960s.

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Myers said the town needs police officers who are approachable and respectful to residents.

Potter should be a good fit for the town, based on his reputation as a state police trooper, he said.

Potter said he wants the department to adopt a more friendly appearance.

During Ralf Berger's tenure, the police department traded in its traditional uniforms for SWAT-style pants, shirts and boots, the police cruisers were painted almost entirely black and a bike patrol was established.

The SWAT-style uniforms and the dark police cars are intimidating, said Potter, a Washington County native.

"We want to be customer friendly," he said.

Potter said he has been researching prices on traditional uniforms that he says look more professional.

The police cars will be repainted in a more customary style, he said.

"We want them to see us as human beings. We want to get away from the 'us against them' mentality," Potter said.

The bike patrol will be abolished because the town's police force is too small for it to be productive, he said.

If an officer makes an arrest while on bike patrol he has to wait for another officer to pick up the person in custody, Potter said.

Because the town police department consists of Potter and Officer Mike Neuland, that's not practical, Potter said.

Potter, as Berger did, thinks a third police officer might be needed to provide adequate coverage but he won't ask for anything for which he can't document a need, he said.

One thing he won't ask for is assault weapons, he said.

Potter said the town doesn't need them and state police or the Washington County Sheriff's Department can provide backup if a major incident occurs.

The town's major crimes tend to be burglaries and sexual assault along with minor vandalism and speeding, according to Neuland.

"I'm thrilled to be working with him. He's done so much already - the whole department has done a 360 (degrees)," said Neuland.

The police department's reputation for overzealous parking enforcement also will be modified, said Potter.

"We want to work with the people," said Potter.

Potter said he doesn't anticipate having difficulty answering to Mayor Tommy Bowers and the Town Council.

"I like getting input. Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees," he said.

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