Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan has asked Gov. Harry Hughes if the National Guard would be available in case the county police strike when their present contract expires next summer.
The governor's office was cool to Hogan's inquiry on using the state militia.
Hogan at first denied he had made such an inquiry and said his request was simply for information regarding use of the guard in natural disasters or civil disturbances.
But in a "dear Harry" letter dated June 28 and obtained by The Washington Post, Hogan asked Hughes "specifically...in the event of a police strike" whether the guardsmen were trained to take over local police operations, make arrests and handle law enforcement duties.
The county executive later said he was merely following up earlier correspondence begun by a former police chief.
He also was reported to have asked the state police about similar assistance in case of a strike.
Word of Hogan's action prompted an immediate rebuke from Laney Hester, president of the 800-member police union, which has not yet begun negotiations for a new contract.
"It indicates that he obviously doesn't believe his negotiating team is capable of reaching a negotiated agreement, or the county doesn't plan to bargain in good faith," Hester said, noting that contract talks haven't even been scheduled yet.
"The National Guard should not be used by local jurisdictions as a bargaining chip or backup leverage with local police in negotiations," said Hughes' press secretary, Gene Oishi.
A spokesman for the state police added, "We're not strikebreakers, but in the past we've always been there to assure the public safety."
According to Hogan's revised account, former police chief John Shoades initiated the correspondence with the governor's office last fall, asking about the availability of the National Guard under various circumstances, including a police strike.
Hogan renewed the inquiry in a letter to Hughes on June 1.
Hughes' office assured Hogan on June 15 that the National Guard could work with local police to handle natural disasters and that guardsmen had "civil disturbance training on a recurring basis...coupled with normal military training which has proven to be adequate."
Apparently, the governor has missed Hogan's point.
"Your letter addressed itself primarily to National Guard assistance to local police in disaster situations, whereas our concern dealt more with National Guard duty in the absence of striking police....
"Specifically, we would like to know whether, in the event of a police strike, the guardsmen would be able to operate the police radio network, arrest and book prisoners, process the legal paperwork involved in court cases and generally handle law enforcement functions in a civilian community."
The governor's office confirmed yesterday the exchange of letters, but said in the event of a police strike, "County police can always respond by calling in state police, and that has always proved sufficient."
State police said yesterday they have been called into Prince George's County on several occasions, including the paralyzing snowstorm last February and the tense aftermath of the Terrence Johnson murder trial in April.
County police officials said they could not recall any instance when the National Guard was called in during a police slowdown or job action. According to Sgt. Bob Law, the county police have never gone on strike.
Lt. Col. Herbert Grymes, director of plans, operations and military support for the Maryland National Guard, said the militia could not provide the services that Hogan discussed. He said he told Hogan's office the guard "rarely ever makes arrests."
Hogan said he acted solely out of concern for the safety of county residents.
"I had no intention of using (the National Guard) as strikebreakers," he said. "We don't anticipate any strike. This is preventitive medicine," he said, part of a contingency plan to provide police protection.
Union leader Hester, however, said he was "amazed and surprised that Hogan would write the governor of the state and ask for assistance in a police strike when we have never had a police strike in Prince George's County."
The police did stage an eight-hour walkout last spring in the wake of Johnson's manslaughter conviction in the killing of two police officers. And a year ago, during negotiations for the present contract, they staged a 10-day slowdown, refusing to write traffic tickets in an attempt to break a deadlock in the talks.