Every morning about 8, Prince George's police Cpl. Danon Ashton leaves his home in Bowie and climbs into his county-issued sport-utility vehicle.
His destination is not a police station but the Mitchellville residence of Jacqueline K. Brown, chief administrative officer and second in command under Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D). For the rest of the workday, at hearings, receptions or in her office returning calls, Brown is seldom out of Ashton's sight.
This makes her a rarity -- an appointed local government official in the Washington region who has a police officer providing security.
Ashton, whose official title is police liaison, will make at least $61,080 this year as Brown's driver and bodyguard. During the first four months of 2005, he was paid $11,350 in overtime alone.
But that is not what has some county residents upset.
"It's not about the amount of money -- $80,000 is not going to fix the problems we have in this county," said Zalee Harris, a government watchdog who lives in Temple Hills. "It's about the fact that these people think they deserve or are owed this kind of prestige or kind of service."
The Prince George's public safety director, Vernon Herron, said he believes the police officer provides necessary security for Brown, who is the first woman to hold the position. He said he has no plans to reassign Ashton or any of the other three members of the executive protection unit.
"I make no excuses for providing security for the county's highest-ranking officials, which happens to be a grand total of two," Herron said. "I'd rather take these precautions than to second-guess myself at somebody's hospital bed or funeral."
Brown could not be reached to comment.
The three other members of the executive protection unit are assigned to Johnson; one accompanied him on a 10-day trade mission to Africa in March.
"These people are not the president of the United States. They don't represent the national security," Harris said. "It's not necessary."
Other residents and elected officials say that given the county's police staff shortage and the department's lengthy response times to 911 calls, county officers should be assigned to street duty, not to escort a county official.
"The county executive should have what he needs, but after that, it seems like a poor use of resources," said Del. Justin D. Ross (D-Prince George's). "It's another police officer that could be on our street protecting our citizens."
James Pryde, who lives in Upper Marlboro, agreed. He said he was outraged when he heard gunshots fired, called 911 and fruitlessly waited for police. The next day Pryde called Johnson's office, which looked into the matter and found that police arrived about 45 minutes after the 911 call was placed.
"Why are sworn officers chauffeuring when they don't [have enough to] respond to alarms?" Pryde asked.
Ashton's assignment has come under scrutiny after a complaint that county police officers manhandled a WJLA-Channel 7 reporter who was following Brown and Ashton while checking out a tip about the possible inappropriate use of a county vehicle.
Other officials have taken heat for their use of officers. In April, one of Seat Pleasant's four police officers drove Mayor Eugene Grant to a meeting of the National Conference of Black Mayors in Columbus, Ohio.
Some residents have raised questions about the trip, but Grant said officer Bryan Tucker was off-duty. "We're fighting against criminal elements, and we have to take certain precautions," said Grant, who has proposed a 16 percent tax increase to help pay for nine additional officers.
Most mayors of big cities have drivers and police protection. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) has round-the-clock protection, according to Raquel Guillory, his spokeswoman. She would not say how many officers provide the protection. She said that Michael R. Enright, the first deputy mayor, does not have security or a driver.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has city police officers shadowing him. But spokesman Vince Morris said that Robert C. Bobb, the city administrator, "doesn't have anyone protecting him. He's on his own."
Herron said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks prompted many governments, large and small, to reevaluate their security procedures.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who has gone relatively unprotected during his decade in office, recently decided to put together a formal security team. Bruce F. Romer, the county's chief administrative officer, does not have security.
Duncan created four new positions in the Montgomery County Department of Security, a unit of the Department of Public Works. The four lieutenants, all of whom are former or retired officers allowed to carry weapons, have dual functions, Romer said. The officers will be shift supervisors for the Department of Security, which provides security at county buildings, and will at times guard Duncan.
Until recently, a staff member typically drove Duncan to county events.
"Certainly, we have a county executive that is very visible and, like any chief elected official, we thought it was appropriate to do more," Romer said. Concerning the level of protection Duncan receives, he said only that it isn't "around the clock."
Herron said the Prince George's policy is a precaution, arguing that government officials are "threatened and assaulted every day, some even killed in the performance of their duties."
Asked if Brown has ever been threatened, Herron said she has not. But that does not mean that she should not have police protection, he said.
Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.