Acting Police Chief John E. (Jack) McHale was nominated by Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan yesterday to assume permanent command of the suburban county's troubled police force.
McHale, 54, a former FBI official, has served as acting chief since late last month, after the County Council rejected Hogan's first choice for the job. A longtime associate of the county executive, McHale joined the Hogan administration last year as a police adviser and press aide.
Hogan called McHale "extremely competent and capable" and urged the council to confirm him swiftly, "so the leadership uncertainty at the police department can, at last, be eliminated."
The 840-member county police force has been without a permanent chief since last June, when John W. Rhoads retired.
Hogan and McHale spent six months searching the nation for a new chief, finally settling on James R. Taylor, the chief in Petersburg, Va. But the council rejected Taylor's nomination in early December, arguing that his relations with the black community were satisfactory and that Hogan should have selected someone more familiar with Prince George's.
Hogan, furious with the council for turning down his choice, quickly appointed McHale acting chief. From the beginning of McHale's tenure late last month, he and Hogan offered strong hints that the assignment might become permanent.
"I've said all along I would like very much to be the permanent chief," McHale said yesterday. "I just don't anticipate any problems running the department. It's a good department."
Council reaction to the McHale nomination was mixed. Some members said they thought Hogan acted too quickly, noting that McHale has been on the job as acting chief for less than a month.
"It was a surprise and a shock," said Council Chairman Parris Glendening. "The sentiment is that the department really needs a chief. On the other hand, we would like to have seen McHale in an acting capacity a little longer. Why Hogan is not trying to avoid a confrontation, I don't know."
Other council members expressed reservations about McHale's previous role as a Hogan adviser. "He had served as a bit of an ax man for Hogan," said one. "With more time [as acting chief], he could have gotten in there and disassociated himself. Unfortunately, we can't see that now."
None of the council members contacted yesterday said they were ready to take a position on McHale's appointment.
"To be very frank, I have a sense that McHale was the man that Hogan wanted even before he sent down [James Taylor's] name," said council member Gerard T. McDonough. "Political executives like appointments who have proven themselves, especially to the political executives. The FBI and the blue hats are two entirely different animals. McHale will definitely have to show how he can deal with a local force."
McHale has already restructured the department's high command by naming Maj. Rice Turner as his deputy and returning former acting chief Joseph Vasco to his former role as chief of operations.
In a statement yesterday, Hogan compared McHale with Taylor, his initial choice for the job. He said the council's objections to Taylor could not apply to McHale.
Hogan cited the fact that council members had criticized Taylor's moving from one job to another too frequently. McHale, Hogan said, has had only two jobs since college -- his FBI work and his year with the county government. He also noted that while Taylor was not a resident of the county, McHale has lived in Prince George's for the last 21 years.
"Why wait for 30 days?" said McHale, who served in the FBI for 27 years. "By the time the council votes, I'll have been around for over a month. That's plenty of time to judge a permanent chief."
"He's a really nice guy, but professionally you can't say anything good or bad about him," said Laney Hester, president of the local fraternal order of police union. "The only thing his 27 years in the FBI qualify him for is a pension. My only question is: Is he the second best or the 206th best?"
On the night that Hogan's nomination of police chief James Taylor failed, Hogan had said that any other police chief would be "second best." But Hogan's son and aide, Lawrence Jr., said yesterday, that Hogan originally had intended to make McHale the permanent chief when he was elected county executive in 1978 but decided instead to keep him on his personal staff.
"Therefore, you can't really consider him second best," Lawrence Hogan Jr. said.