The already tense relations between Montgomery County Police Chief Robert J. diGrazia and his police officers were strained even further this week after diGrazia declared at a public forum that most police officers "see the community as the enemy."
DiGrazia's statement, reported in a county paper, immediately drew an angry response from a number of officers who called the statement "ridiculous" and "absurd," and accused the chief of trying to widen the gap between the police and the community.
The latest spat between diGrazia and the officers comes at a critical time, since newly elected County Executive Charles Gilchrist, who has been critical of some of diGrazia's policies in the past, has not yet announced whether he intends to keep the chief.
Meanwhile, a county grand jury is continuing its investigations into allegations that diGrazia and his chief aide, Philip H. Marks, have mismanaged the department. Last week, the County Council issued a statement saying its staff had evaluated those allegations and found only "minor infractions."
Word of the chief's most recent remarks spread quickly through the 750-member department this week, re-igniting many officers' long-smoldering discontent with the chief. Four months ago, a majority of the County's 350-member Fraternal Order of Police voted no confidence in diGrazia.
"A chief should have some relationship with his men," said Cpl. Kenneth Guidara. "Everything (diGrazia) says seems to separate us more (from hime)."
In reference to the "enemies" remark, Guidara, who works out of the Wheaton station said, "There are a few people out there, you know, who are your typical punks. But I certainly don't regard the public in general as my enemy."
"I have no idea why the chief said that," said a patrol officer from the Bethesda station, who asked not to be named. "DiGrazia is not a police administrator. The man is a politician. He tells the people what they want to hear."
DiGrazia, who built a national reputation for himself through his outspokeness and innovative police policies, says, "Unfortunately, nobody wants to face these issues . . . What am I supposed to say when a citizen asks me a question?
That there aren't any problems?"
During the same interview this week, diGrazia reiterated his belief that most officers, after working on the street for a while, develop a "them-against-us" attitude toward the community they work in. Tr for ad 4
DiGrazia made the original statement that angered the officers when answering a question at a meeting of Suburban Maryland Fair Housing, Inc., a Bethesda-based group which investigates complaints of racial discrimination in housing.
The chief said his statement addressed "a classic, universal police problem" and is "not an indictment of the police in this county . . . Relatively speaking, we're in good shape (in Montgomery). That shows you how bad policing is in general across the United States."
DiGraiza said he told members of the Fair Housing group that he has ordered extensive training in human relations for the new police recruit class, and that under his administration, the higher-ranking officers, such as sergeants, lieutenants and captains, received training for the first time in how to supervise the officers under them.
"If an officer stops somebody for a traffic violation, right away the person says, 'Why aren't you out catching criminals instead of stopping a good citizen like me . . .
"Even the average citizen (police officers) deal with usually responds to them in a negative sense and pretty soon they think everybody feels that way."
DiGrazia said the opposition among the rank and file his appointment of a woman civiliant to head the police academy and of Marks, also a civilian, to be his chief aide, is a reflection of the mistrust the officers feel toward the public.
But said Lt. Thomas Skaife of the Rockville station, "You consider yourself a part of the community (as a po-community as 'them')."
"Ninety-five to 98 percent of the people are just fine people . . . Then you get that other two to five percent and it's a pleasure to put them in jail," Skaife added.
"There's a lot of times I'm glad to have citizens around," said Rockville patrolman Charles Whitaker. "One time I was being jumped by a bunch of guys . . . A citizen pulled his car up between us. He sent his wife to call for help."
Edgar Russell, president of the Suburban Maryland group invited diGrazia to speak on police-community relations, after writing to the chief about his group's concerns that some police officers, sent to investigate apparent racial incidents in county public schools, had dismissed the incidents as "youthful pranks."