The Prince George's County Council unanimously approved Norfolk Police Chief Melvin C. High yesterday as the new head of the county's troubled police force.
High, 59, whose 34 years in law enforcement include a stint as assistant chief of the D.C. police, will replace Gerald M. Wilson effective May 1.
County Executive Jack B. Johnson, who made police reform the basis of his campaign last year, told council members that High was the right choice to bring integrity and accountability to the department, the subject of a lengthy federal investigation into allegations of brutality.
"He is a stern disciplinarian, a fair person," Johnson said during the confirmation hearing. "You know him as a man of character. I'm proud that he consented to come to Prince George's."
Johnson (D) said he chose High in part because of his reputation for reaching out to the community during his 10 years as chief of the Norfolk police.
The County Council praised Johnson's selection. Chairman Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood) described him as "someone of tremendous integrity." David Harrington (D-Bladensburg) said he was impressed by High's disposition and temperament.
Before voting for High's confirmation, Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) said he thought highly of Wilson, the departing chief. Knotts said that Wilson worked hard for the department and the county but that he thought it was time for new administration.
"This is not an issue of Chief Wilson or Chief High," Knotts said. "This is Chief High's season."
Wilson said yesterday that he does not have immediate plans and that he preferred to reserve further comment until he leaves office.
Wilson had supporters in the county. A group of community leaders criticized Johnson for selecting High without allowing the community to participate in the process. Members of the Interfaith Action Committee accused Johnson of going back on his word to involve the community in such an important decision. Johnson denied the charge, saying he met with Robert Clemetson, the coalition's lead organizer, before choosing High. Clemetson wanted Wilson to stay in the top job, but Johnson decided to look outside the department.
Five people testified on High's behalf, including a couple of former colleagues, a retired administrator in Norfolk and former New York City chief Patrick Murphy, who is working as a police consultant for the county.
"It is difficult to find someone with integrity, honor and a commitment to community policing," said Frederick Police Chief Kim C. Dine, who worked with High in the District. "But you have found that in Chief High."
Victoria Brock, a captain on the Prince George's police force, said she hoped that High could make accountability and integrity the core values of the department, "not harsh words, the strike of a nightstick, pepper spray or a gun."