Prince George's County Executive-elect Jack B. Johnson tapped a former New York City police commissioner yesterday to review the county's police force and propose reforms that Johnson said would "restore the reputation of the department."
Patrick V. Murphy, 82, who served as New York's commissioner in the early 1970s after a stint in the District and who has consulted with a number of troubled police departments, will look at all aspects of the force and report to Johnson.
"Commissioner Murphy will have carte blanche authority to evaluate our police department from top to bottom," Johnson said. "After Commissioner Murphy has determined what needs to be done, he will then work with me to get the job done."
Johnson made the issue of police reform a centerpiece of his campaign for county executive, as well as his tenure as state's attorney, during which he sought without success to prosecute police officers accused of brutality.
Murphy, a former president of the Police Foundation who works out of his Bethesda home as a paid consultant, said he is familiar with the controversies that have surrounded Prince George's police in recent years. The department is the target of a federal investigation into allegations of brutality.
Murphy said he has no preconceptions about the kinds of reforms needed and no deadline for delivering the recommendations.
"I read the paper; I'm well aware that the department has had a number of problems," Murphy said. But he added, "I've never studied the department."
Johnson announced the appointment at a news conference at which he also presented the co-chairmen of his transition team, Patrick Swygert, the president of Howard University, and C.D. Mote, the president of the University of Maryland.
The two, Johnson said, are responsible for setting policy for the transition team, establishing hiring standards and recruiting appointees for a new administration that takes power Dec. 2.
Johnson repeated yesterday that he has made no decisions about significant hires in his administration, including whether to retain Police Chief Gerald M. Wilson.
Johnson also did not directly answer whether he would honor a campaign commitment to use $20 million to $25 million of the county's approximately $100 million budget surplus to reduce public school class sizes, as long as the expenditure did not affect the county's bond rating. Instead, he said state and local economies remain uncertain. "The economy is not strong," he said. "I'm not convinced that we have as much money as we thought."
County budget officials have said in recent days that, based on projections, Prince George's may face a $30 million shortfall, but that the deficit is not likely to result in layoffs or noticeable service cuts.
Since capturing the Democratic nomination in September, and defeating Republican Audrey E. Scott last week, Johnson has taken pains to cast himself as a unifying force in a county that has long been beset by political infighting.
The group of supporters and advisers who attended yesterday's news conference included Major F. Riddick, the former chief of staff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) and one of four Democrats who vied with Johnson for the nomination. Johnson has asked Riddick to serve on his transition team.
One longtime critic whom the county executive-elect has not contacted is Anthony Walker, the president of the county's chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, who aggressively opposed Johnson's candidacy. Walker said that in recent weeks, he has sought through intermediaries to contact Johnson but has gotten no response.
Walker showed up uninvited at Johnson's news conference, saying that he wanted to learn firsthand who would be reviewing the department. After the announcement, Johnson circled the room to greet supporters but skipped over Walker.
Walker said he did not understand the purpose of Murphy's mission, but added: "There's a public perception out there that we need to change. I welcome the challenge. The more review we have, the better we look."
In Murphy, Johnson turned to a man with more than four decades of police experience.
Murphy was appointed police chief in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1962, before becoming public safety director in 1967 in the District, where he was in charge during the rioting that followed Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.
Then-New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay hired Murphy in 1970 to take over a police force roiled by systemic corruption. Murphy replaced 90 percent of the top brass and is credited with creating a modern internal affairs division.