He's the sheriff; he's Jimmy.
He's standing in the doorway of his Upper Marlboro home, dressed in dark blue shorts and a pullover top, his big black dog beside him. The sheriff's dog is a 95-pound Doberman, but his name, Huckleberry, is a pretty good gauge of his ferocity. It is 7:30 in the morning.
For nine years, James Vincent Aluisi, 41, has worn the badge of sheriff of Prince George's County. He's the son of a former county politician, a kisser of women's cheeks, a hugger of children, a "macho teddy bear" with a .380 Beretta strapped to his ankle. He once posed in full uniform for a National Rifle Association ad. He'd like his tombstone to read that he was "cuddly." He thinks the owl should be the national bird.
This is a day in his life.
On one wall in the "junk room" of Jimmy Aluisi's house is the head of an antelope he shot on a hunting trip in Wyoming a few years back. Twisted around the animal's ears are dozens of bridal garters -- wisps of satin and lace that bridegrooms toss out to eligible bachelors after weddings.
"Never a groom, always a garter-catcher," he says. Jimmy and Huckleberry live alone.
The sheriff, a Democrat who describes himself as "a very conservative liberal," heads a staff of 202 people, including 165 deputies. They carry out eviction orders, handle courtroom security and arrest 18,000 people a year, more than any other law enforcement agency in the county. However, the Prince George's County Police Department, with 900 officers, is the county's major crime-fighting agency.
Aluisi, a sturdy 200-pounder with a black mustache, maintains a friendly image as the county's high sheriff. He's easygoing. He tries hard. He uses words like "corny." He addresses women as "hon." "Some people say I date a lot," Aluisi says, but he doesn't want to be labeled a playboy. Every Sunday morning he attends the 7:30 mass at nearby St. Mary's Church.
"Actually, Jimmy is a boring sheriff in Prince George's County history," his friend, state Del. Tim Maloney (D-Prince George's) said later at dinner, recalling the more controversial sheriffs who reigned during the 1960s and early '70s, the county's rough-and-tumble years. "He's a good delegator. Jimmy knows who he is."
Dressed in a navy double-breasted suit, his pistol secured to his right ankle, Aluisi drives the few blocks to work in his official gray Chevrolet with the radios and the telephone. His office is behind the county courthouse in a building slated to be torn down for a parking garage. It is decorated with mallard ducks and a picture of Aluisi's hero, President Truman. ("He was a tough old guy," Aluisi says. "Not the most articulate person, but honest.")
At 8:30 a.m., he meets with his second-in-command, Col. Ernest Zaccanelli, a tall, dry man with a doctorate in public administration, and Capt. Ed Feeney, whom Aluisi introduces as "the national recipient for the Archie Bunker look-alike award." They discuss security for the new $42 million county courthouse complex to be built in Upper Marlboro and the logistics of guiding prisoners through its hallways.
"We don't want no escapes," Aluisi says, one leg propped up on his desk. Prison escapes are a hot issue in the county, since two inmates have broken out and nine others have been erroneously released from Prince George's new state-of-the-art jail. Although the jail isn't under Aluisi's supervision, his deputies assist in the searches.
"Nope, we don't want no escapes," says Feeney, knocking on a nearby door jamb for good luck.
"They do all the work," Aluisi says a few minutes later as he gets into his car. "I don't do anything. I just sit back and smile."
There's something timeless about public school libraries. At Robert Goddard Middle School in Seabrook, the bookshelves are decorated with paper pumpkins and the cafeteria smells waft through the hallways. The sheriff is giving a presentation to a prelunch crowd of seventh graders; a deputy in brown uniform presides over the slide projector.
"What's a sheriff?" Aluisi begins by asking the 50 students. "Well, you look at me and to start with, you know he's good looking."
"You shoot people," volunteers one boy.
"You take care of the law," a girl near the front replies.
That's right, says Aluisi. "Who's the most famous sheriff you've heard of, besides me?" The students answer: Andy Griffith, Matt Dillon, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Roscoe P. Coltrane.
Sheriffs, appointed by kings to collect taxes and chop off heads, date to the seventh century, Aluisi tells the students. The first sheriff in Prince George's County took office in 1696. A portrait of Aluisi in uniform appears on the screen, followed by pictures of deputies serving warrants, carrying out eviction orders, seizing weapons.
The son of former County Commission chairman Frank Aluisi, the sheriff began his law enforcement career as a deputy when he was 21. His inspiration, he says, was a political science teacher at Prince George's Community College who urged him to get involved. In his first two weeks on the job, he received a commendation for arresting "a bunch of guys" for armed robbery.
His most memorable experience, however, came a few years later when he and several other deputies stumbled onto a drug transaction in progress. When the suspects began firing at the officers, Aluisi dived under a car. Later, he says, "I couldn't get out. The other guys had to lift up the car so I could squeeze out."
His election in 1978, at the age of 31, made him the youngest sheriff in Maryland. Today, his $50,000-a-year post is one of only a handful of jobs filled by countywide voters.
When the slides end with a final image -- the sheriff's department's phone number -- Aluisi asks for questions from the students: If you make a threat, can you be arrested? (Depends on the threat.) How many people has Aluisi himself arrested? (6,000 in 21 years.) What's the height requirement for a deputy? (There isn't one.) When police shoot a person, do they shoot to kill? ("You ask very poignant questions. But, yes, they do.")
It's almost lunchtime; the students get up to leave. "Wait a minute, wait a minute," Aluisi stops them. "Can I ask you a question? Can I get a warm fuzzy before I leave?"
There is a slight pause. "A what?" one girl asks. "Ah, he wants a hug," her friend replies. The sheriff is hugged and the class dismissed.
"I'm great with kids, old people and dogs," Aluisi says on the way out of the building.
Lunch follows with District Court Judge Phil Nichols at the Marlborough Country Club, a convenient dining spot for county officials in the county seat. The topic is security at the three courtrooms in Hyattsville; one of the major credits of Aluisi's administration is his tightening of courthouse security, Nichols says.
Back at the office, the sheriff reads through a stack of papers. He calls out to Barbara Rollman, his administrative aide of eight years; she "runs the office" and bakes Aluisi a birthday cake every year.
"Barbara, come here, sweetie," Aluisi says, handing her a paper. "Can you put this in the security file, under concepts and ideas?"
More afternoon business: Aluisi wants a written commendation for two deputies who tracked down a doctor in a child-support case from India to France to Bermuda. Plans are reviewed for the annual Christmas Basket program, which provides meals to 1,100 needy families. Another amnesty period for child-support laggards is in the works.
Aluisi stretches in his chair. "Let's think of a motto to promote the amnesty," he says. "Like, 'There's no place like home for the holidays, and if your child support is paid, that's where you'll be.' "
His deputies nod, make a few notes.
Later, Aluisi will pay an official visit to the holding cells. He will drive out to the police firing range off Rte. 301. He'll tell a story about recently stopping a motorist who had tossed a bag of chicken bones out of a car window on Browns Station Road. He'll say how much he loves being sheriff, but hates campaign fund-raising; he'll be running again in 1990.
At dinner at Chef's Secret in Greenbelt, he and Maloney, a bright and ebullient talker, discuss their plans for a January retreat at a Catholic monastery along the Potomac; it will mean no talking for a couple of days. They are skeptical that the two of them can remain silent for so long.
"When you see us in our robes . . . . " Maloney says.
"With our eyes rolled back in our head . . . . " Aluisi laughs.
Back home in Upper Marlboro, the sheriff checks his mailbox before he enters the house: an announcement of a law firm opening, a thank-you card from a woman whose pocketbook he found, a Halloween card from "a friend." It is 10 p.m.
All in all, he says, "It's been a pretty typical day."