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Knight named acting police chief in Smithsburg

March 16, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

SMITHSBURG -- Smithsburg Police Officer George L. Knight Jr. has been appointed acting chief of the Smithsburg Police Department after Chief Charles R. Stanford resigned, town officials said.

Stanford, a former Maryland State Police trooper hired as chief in December 2007, said in a letter to the mayor Wednesday that he was resigning effective that day "due to personal circumstances in my life."

Stanford did not return a phone message left at his home Monday.

At an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon, the Smithsburg Town Council unanimously approved the appointment of Knight as acting chief, meeting minutes show.

Depending on how the first few months go, the council might decide to make Knight permanent chief July 1, at the start of the town's next budget year, Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers said.

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Knight, a former Hagerstown Police Department supervisor, was hired as a Smithsburg police officer in March 2008. In appointing him acting chief, the council waived the department's usual two-year probationary period before an officer may be promoted, meeting minutes show.

Knight has not been with the department as long as its other two officers, but he has supervisory experience the others lack, Myers said.

During his 24-year career with the Hagerstown Police Department, Knight served as a patrol supervisor, Washington County Narcotics Task Force member, Criminal Investigation Division detective, Special Response Team member and Western Maryland Police Academy firearms instructor.

If appointed permanently, Knight would be the Smithsburg Police Department's sixth chief in 12 years.

Smithsburg council members said they hope Knight will be the one to break the pattern.

"It seems that police chiefs only last a year and a half to two years," Councilman Donnie Souders Jr. said. "Hopefully we've got one for the long run."

Knight's appointment also got the stamp of approval from Councilman Jerome Martin, who in 2007 voted against Stanford's appointment, protesting that Myers did not interview any other applicants for the position. Knight was one of those applicants, he said.

Martin, an advocate for foot patrols and other high-visibility police work, said Knight seems to share his vision for the department.

"I think he has an understanding of what community policing is and the difference between going out and writing tickets and speed patrol, and getting his officers out in the community," Martin said.

As acting chief, Knight will make $44,434, which is halfway between his former salary as an officer and Stanford's former salary as chief, Myers said. If he is appointed chief July 1, he would receive the other half of that difference retroactively for his months as acting chief, Myers said. Stanford made $48,756 a year.

In his resignation letter, Stanford said he was grateful for the opportunity to serve as chief in the town in which he grew up. He also made reference to the fatal shooting of Smithsburg Police Officer Christopher Nicholson, which happened 14 days into Stanford's tenure as chief. He wrote that Nicholson was "a true hero" of the department and that he was proud to have served with him.

Myers said Stanford has been done an exceptional job of supporting the investigation into that incident and supporting Nicholson's family.

She said Stanford also did an excellent job in bringing the department's equipment up to standards.

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