Rice Turner, a veteran police administrator in Prince George's County, emerged yesterday as the leading candidate for police chief after picking up a surprising endorsement from the local police union and strong support from the County Council. Turner, an acting lieutenant coloniel on the force, is one of five men under consideration for the police chief job, but he appears to have the inside track because he is the only candidate now working for the county police department. County Executive Lawrence Hogan has been under heavy pressure from the council and the police union to select a chief from within the deparmtnet.
The unexpected endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police came after a three-hour meeting between Turner and the union president, Laney Hester, yesterday afternoon at union headquarters in Upper Marlboro.
Hester had said earlier that Turner was unacceptable, but in a press release yesterday the union called Turner a "viable" candidate for the job.
A survey of County Council members yesterday showed surprisingly strong support for Turner, who is serving in the lieutenant colonel job once held by acting chief Joseph Vasco. Vasco already has been eliminated from consideration for police chief because of his role in a controversial stakeout operation in the 1960s known as the "Death Squad." The council thought highly of Vasco, and after Hogan took him out of the running, several council members said they would only support someone from within the department.
"Turner will be the only acceptable candidate to me," said Council Member Sue V. Mills. Hogan has gotten pretty much assured that we won't confirm anyone from outside the department."
I'm glad to see the possibility from the 'inside,'" said Council Member Gerard McDonough. "I would hope he (Hogan) would send his name down."
Sources close to Hogan have said that Turner would be "acceptable" should the council not approve any of Hogan's other choices. "Hogan wouldn't be wasting time now interviewing a nonviable candidate," said one source.
Most county politicians feel the move to include Turner among the contenders was a smart one by Hogan. Said one: "He's got the police union and the council in a box. They've been committed to an insider. Now he's got an insider. They've got to take it."
A majority of council members indicated yesterday that Turner would be an acceptable candidate. The council must confirm Hogan's choice for the job.
"I'm going to pick the single most qualified person I can find," Hogan said yesterday. "I'll go to the council and try to convince them to make him police chief." The council and police union have made it clear to Hogan that unless he chooses someone from inside the department, he risks a political battle.
Turner joined the Prince George's police force in 1961, and later headed the department's internal affairs unit, which investigates complaints against police officers.
Council Member Parris Glendening, a former Hyattsville City Council member and police commissioner, said yesterday, "When we referred problems [to Turner's internal affairs unit] he handled them promptly and in a politically sensitive way. I have a clear inclination to go with him."
Glendening said he recalled that Turner never hesitated to "call a meeting of people involved in a complaint, go right into their living room, and follow it up."
Turner, 41, has a reputation on the force as a strick disciplinarian. He gained respect among some officers after he successfully talked a gunman holding a hostage into surrendering. Some observers said Turner had the opportunity to shoot the gunman. Apparently it led to some criticism that he should have acted with more force, but sources said Turner's philosophy is that force is not always necessary.
He once told about 20 police officers who had turned in their cars during a work slowdown that they would have to walk their beats. Then he sent them into the county's high-crime area. Eventually, sources said, these decisions were reversed.
Turner, some of his colleagues said, is so hardnosed and outspoken that he has alienated some people within the police department. But several County Council members interviewed yesterday said that was not a problem.
"The fact that he is a strict disciplinarian may add to his qualifications as far as I am concerned," said Council Member David Hartlove. "He is tough, and I think he can get the job done if he is given the opportunity," said another council member, Frank Casula. "I have no problem with Rice Turner."