For the first time in history Prince George's County's law enforcement officers - county, municipal and city police, and members of the sheriff's department - will play an active role in Maryland state and county elections, according to the head of the county's largest police union.
About 1,500 officers, the members of Lodges 9 and 89 of the Fraternal Order of Police, and the city police in Greenbelt and Laurel will be represented by the newly formed Friends of Law Enforcement Officers in Prince George's County Political Committee.
Mike Knapp a county police officer who is chairman of the new organization, said recently that four fund raisers already have been scheduled and the group hopes to raise in excess of $10,000 for its endorsed candidates.
Police participation in pact elections has been limited to the FOP lodge presidents giving personal endorsements to candidates.
"We've been wanting to become more heavily involved for a number of years." said Laney Hester, president of Lodge 89, which represents the county police (Lodge 9 represents municipal police and sheriff's offices). "We think that we have the manpower to have a large influence on the outcome of some of the races," Hester added.
"The police are still held in high esteem by a lot of people in this county and our endorsement will mean something. A lot of candidates have already shown quite a bit of interest."
During the next few weeks the committee will be sending questionaires to candidates and accepting resumes from them. Formal endorsements will be make in late July, after interviews with the candidates.
According to Hester the committee will not limit its activities strictly to Prince George's County. It may also endorse a state-wide slate. Already, a July 11 meeting has been set with Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis, who is running for governor.
In addition, Knapp said the group has been contacted by Lawrence J. Hogan, the former Republican congressman, who is running for the county executives job in Prince George's.
Although neither Hester nor Knapp would comment, police relations with county executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr. have been rocky and it seems likely that the group which will begin operating next week, will support Hogan.
"We'll endorse candidates from the county executives on down but I think we'll probably focus our attention on a few selected races which we think are particularly important and where we feel we can play an important role," Hester said. "Certainly no matter who support in the county executive race, that will be one of our major targets."
Another race on which the police probably will focus is the State Senate race in the 21st District where Leonard I. Colodny is challenging incumbent.Arthur Dorman, who is running on the Kelly slate for the Democratic nomination. Hester already has endorsed Colodny and he is one of the few candidates considered a certainty for the police organization's endorsement.
In addition, the organization is mounting a voter registration drive to persuade the county's law enforcement officers to register to vote. It also will conduct a phone campaign just before the primary and the election, urging all its members to vote for its slate.
"We're hoping to have 200 men on the street going door-to-door on a regular basis," Hester said. "We'll be making up flyers and taking out ads.
"I think in a lot of areas people will be very interested in why we don't support someone," Hester said. "In this county if people suspect someone is soft on law and order that can be important, it can hurt them."