Montgomery County's new police chief, Robert J. diGrazia, has threatened court action to halt fund-raising solicitations made by the County Police Association because of more than 100 complaints from citizens.
DiGrazia said that some of those solicited complained that the fund raisers represented themselves as police officers and indicated that in exchange for a donation, the potential contributor might receive favourable police treatment.
Montgomery County Police Association officials said yesterday they have received only about five complaints of "high-pressured" fund raising. A spokesman said that the organization, which is using civilian solicitors, carefully instructed them to not represent themselves as policemen and does not believe that they are.
The union, which has 400 members, is sponsoring a benefit variety show in the late spring and is soliciting advertising contributors for the show's program booklet.
"This sort of thing just embarrasses (the department)," diGrazia said. "It's getting out of hand and we're concerned enough about it to look at legal remedies."
We're concerned about (word of) these numerous complaints," replied Sgt. William McKey, chairman of the association's fund-raising committee, who said he and other union officials will meet with diGrazia Monday to discuss the matter. "We want to work with him (DiGrazia) against him."
McKey said the association hired about 15 people, mostly through want ads placed in newspapers, to seek contributions from citizens and businessmen by telephone. There are about six people who pick up the contributions. Police officers are forbidden by department rule from participating in these activities, McKey said.
McKey said someone from the union is always at the fund-raising telephone center to monitor calls and answer complaints. He said the same sort of complaints had cropped up last year but only on a small scale.
McKey and union president Sgt. James F. Mahoney said the money gained from the benefit will help pay for the union's full-time lawyer and for such activities as contributing to different county charities and organizations.
DiGrazia yesterday sharply criticized the idea of policemen's associations or unions soliciting funds from private businessmen or citizens. "In the same way I don't expect an individual officer to have his hand out, neither do I expect these associations to," he said. "It can lead to misunderstandings on the part of all concerned. It's not good for the department's image."
The spring variety show will be the second annual one sponsored by the union. Last year's show added about $25,000 to the union's treasury, McKey said.
The show will put on by the Roy Radin Vandeville Show, a theatrical management company that has performed benefits for many police unions, including one last month for the District of Columbia chapter of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers.
Solicitations of funds for police and sheriff's groups throughout the metropolitan area have caused controversy because of questions raised over whether citizens feel unduly compelled to contribute to a charity or activity that seemingly has some connectionwith the police department.