In announcing last week a sweeping reorganization that includes significant changes in the Montgomery County police department's structure and operating procedures, Chief Robert J. diGrazia finally dropped the "other shoe" and lived up to his advance billing as an administrator whose ideas often are as controversial as they are innovative.
Several provative comments diGrazia has made about police work in general confused many of the 784-member force.
Although it seems evident in retrospect that diGrazia was preparing both the police and the public for the complex reorganization, parts of th e planapparently have generated significant discontent within the police ranks, several police sources said.
Last last week rumors surfaced that some officiers were pereparing to stage a strike or some sort of job action to protest diGrazia's plans to change the system of paying a salary bonus to officers who take college-level courses and to revamp the job descriptions of some ranks.
The police sources said, however, that these rumors were exaggerated.
DiGrazia and his top aides held prvate meetings with department personnel last week and early this week to explain their plans and to field questions. Additional meetings are planned.
The reorganization of the department's units affects about 175 personnel, said Philip H. Marks, diGrazia's special assistant. Many mofe are affected by the revisions diGrazia has proposed for the department's career development program.
Such controversy is nothing new to diGrazia, who in previous jobs has forged a reputation as an outspoken, liberal policeman who believes that many traditional police practices are outdated.
Although planning for part of the reorganization was begun under diGrazia's predecessor and strongly supported by County Executive James P. Gleason, the actual proposal embodies many of the ideas diGrazia himself has long articulated.
The "demilitarization" of the police department, a more fluid promotion system, a streamlined administrative structure, and more involvement of citizens in police activites in their neighborhoods are all concepts diGrazia advocated when he served as a police chief in California, Missouri, and Boston.
During a press conference last week, flanked by Gleason and his top aide William Hussman, diGrazia said that he intends to consolidate the department's five major divisions into three new one, broaden and redefine many interdepartmental ranks, and revamp the promotion system.
However, those features of the plan were overshadowed intially by his announcement of the forced retirement of two of the department's senior officers, an action that stunned many of their colleagues.
DiGrazia ordered Maj. Robert M. Sigwald, Jr., head of the patrol division, to clean out his desk the day the reorganization was announced. He told Maj. Donald E. Brooks, head of the technical services bureau, that he would be retired Sept. 1.
No reason for the action was given other than that the two didn't [WORD ILLEGIBLE] with the reorganization. Both men had served in the department for about 25 years. They will received pensions at about $22,000 and $25,000.
Pfc. Len Simpson, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, seemed to speak for many officers when he said, "We don't know what the reasons were, but many of our men felt it was degrading. They felt it could have been done in a more polite way."
The action drew a strong rebuke from Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge John F. McAuliffe.
McAuliffe, a judge since 1972 and the son of a former county police chief, characterized the retirements as "a purge that is unwarranted and unwise" and "an unthinking, impersonal personnel action that ought to be criticized."
McAuliffe said he has known both men for several years but is not a close friend of either. "These are two find, distinguished officers," he said.
McAuliffe said the summary treatment of the two officers raises the "question of corruption, or wrongdoing, or lack of performance on their part. That odor is entirely unjustified - and harmful to the police department and the county."
Neither Sigwald nor Brooks could be reached for comment.
Both diGrazia and Gleason, in separate interviews, emphatically denied any such reason behind the forced retirements.
"If happens every day in priavte industry," diGrazia said, referring to the retirements. "It's very difficult to tell people with long service they're through. We're trying to make the department more cost-effective and create more opportunity for the lower-ranking officers."
Like diGrazia, Gleason complained that some, by focusing on the two officers' forced retirement, were missing "the objective of the whole plan - bringing about a closer contact between police and the coummity."
Under the reorganization, a new field operations division will become responsible for communications and patrol functions; investigative services will handle criminal investigations and juvenile crimes: and management services will be responsible for financila management, accounting, supplies, and community services.
Currently, a police officer can take any king of college-level course and get a salary bonus, diGrazia wants to make eligibility for the salary bonus dependent on whether the course is related to the officer's job.