Norfolk Police Chief Melvin C. High, who was tapped last month to head the beleaguered police department in Prince George's County, received a warm reception last night at a community forum to introduce himself, outline his agenda and hear the concerns of residents.
"This is someone you are going to be proud of," County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said in introducing High to about 150 residents at Prince George's Community College in Largo. "Let him know how enthused you are about his presence in Prince George's County."
In a nearly 10-minute speech, High spoke about his work in Norfolk, where he implemented community policing programs. He said he has similar plans for Prince George's.
"I bring to this position honesty, energy, imagination, compassion," High said during the first of three scheduled meet-and-greet sessions the county will hold for him. "I come with one request: I seek your commitment and support of the police department as together we undertake building a safe community."
High, 58, outlined a four-part approach to addressing the needs of the department and the community. The 34-year law enforcement veteran said he wants to improve the selection process for new hires, enhance management training, build on community policing and develop a system that promotes responsibility, integrity and accountability. The department is under a Justice Department investigation into allegations of brutality and questionable shootings.
His message was well received by a friendly audience that included Johnson supporters and staff members: High received two standing ovations and was interrupted with applause more than half a dozen times.
Johnson announced last month that High was his choice to lead the department. If confirmed by the County Council next month, he will replace Gerald M. Wilson, the county's first African American police chief. Wilson was named acting police chief last spring by then-County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D). He was confirmed as chief in July.
A group of community leaders recently criticized Johnson for the selection, contending that he had shut the community out of the process. Members of the Interfaith Action Community accused Johnson of going back on his word to involve the community in important decisions during his administration.
Johnson said recently that he had met with Robert Clemetson, the coalition's lead organizer, before he chose High. Clemetson wanted Wilson to stay in the top job. Johnson decided to look outside the department and found High, who before taking the Norfolk job was a longtime officer and police official in the District who in the early 1990s was passed over to lead the department.
In Norfolk, Johnson said, High received much praise from residents, who said he reached out to the community to foster better relationships between residents and the police.
"Everybody that I talked to talked to the integrity of this man," Johnson said during his introduction. "They said he is a police officer's police officer. . . . He turned around that police department and created a community policing program that was second to none."