Prince George's police Maj. Michael Flaherty, nominated last week to be chief of the county's 900-member police force, last night told a meeting organized by the county NAACP that he will be an accessible leader who will emphasize community relations.
"I think the community needs to see the upper echelon of the police force. I would like to see us get out into the community a lot more. I'd like to get out more," said Flaherty, who is currently assigned to the county's corrections department.
Following a brief speech in which he outlined his 18-year career on the force, Flaherty answered a series of questions posed by a panel of NAACP board members and members of the predominantly black audience of about 100, and got a mixed reaction.
Members of the audience said they were particularly dissatisfied with Flaherty's answers to their concerns about promotional opportunities for black officers and the lack of blacks on some specialized units, such as Internal Affairs.
At one point the Rev. Perry Smith, a long-time commmunity leader and pastor of one of the county's largest black churches, demanded to know what Flaherty would do to help more black officers attain rank above corporal. Flaherty said he was concerned about their plight but refused to commit himself to specific solutions.
"I don't have a Band-Aid approach," Flaherty said, "it's too complex for that."
Cora Rice, one of the leaders of an ad hoc group formed to oppose the nomination to chief of Lt. Col. Joseph D. Vasco, who is unpopular with civil rights groups and was once seen as in line for the job, criticized Flaherty's answer, saying, "He's skirted the issues."
But County NAACP President Josie Bass said after the two-hour forum ended that Flaherty had "answered as best he could in this type of forum. He had no idea what the questions would be," she said, adding "nor are we finished with the questions."
County Council member Floyd Wilson, the council's most senior black, said he was not fully satisfied with Flaherty's answers but probably will support him unless widespread community opposition develops. Flaherty's nomination by County Executive Parris Glendening will be acted on by the council.
Vasco, although actively supported for the chief's job by the 800-member police union, was deemed unacceptable by several black organizations because he had once been accused of being involved in a series of civil rights violations 15 years ago. Vasco was recently exonerated of wrongdoing in a federal court civil trial, but the NAACP issued a statement saying that any candidate with a "suspicious background induces fear in the black community."
After meeting with Glendening last week to oppose Vasco's nomination, the NAACP organized last night's community forum to review potential candidates. According to NAACP leaders, Flaherty accepted the invitation to speak although he did not yet know he would be the nominee.