On the day last week that Prince George's Police Chief Melvin C. High held a news conference to criticize his force as having lazy officers, he also sent out a short memo and video to all members of the department.
The memo said he was proud of their work. The video contained excerpts from the news conference, but the harshest, most critical words from the event were not included.
The July 29 news conference, which lasted more than a half-hour, was boiled down to less than five minutes of video. All comments from County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) were cut. Johnson, who has had a rocky relationship with the police force, delivered a sharp message that afternoon, telling officers that "the days of not working are over."
High and Johnson made their comments in response to a police union news conference that day, at which union officials said the chief's crime-fighting plan has failed. High lashed back, saying that between 60 and 175 officers are underperforming.
Police union President Percy Alston said yesterday that officers were surprised to see the edited version of the conference.
"The message [from the news conference] spread through this agency like wildfire," said Alston, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89. "The administration probably realized how damaging their words were, and that's why it was edited out."
High declined to comment yesterday. His spokeswoman, Barbara Hamm, said only: "The tapes were an internal communication between a boss and his employees."
The chief's memo, dated July 29, explained that he included excerpts from the news conference. The memo took a kinder tone than the news conference. "I am proud of the work that you do," it reads. "We must all continue to work hard for ourselves and for the citizens who we are charged to protect and serve."
Hours earlier at the news conference, High said he assumed that underperforming officers were more numerous than he knew about.
"This is our first cut," High said. "Certainly, there are people above these officers that have to pick up their performance as well."
That comment was not in the video.
The video excerpts deal generally with aggressive policing. They include this comment from High: "The work of a police officer is to go out and arrest crooks and put them in jail. Nothing less than that will be tolerated."
The feuding between the officers and the county's top law enforcement officials comes as Prince George's grapples with a growing problem with violent crime. Compared with this time last year, homicides have increased 26 percent; rapes, 22 percent; carjackings, 45 percent; and robberies, 123 percent.
Alston said the union held its news conference in part because the administration has minimized the county's crime problem or has been "pretending it does not exist." The county has had 101 homicides this year, compared with 80 at this time last year.
On Tuesday, Johnson's office sent out a news release that had the headline: "County executive says statistics indicate reduction in crime." County spokesman John E. Erzen said yesterday that statistics show that the number of slayings is 47 for the past three months, equal to the same time period last year.
"It's certainly a step in the right direction," Erzen said. "We feel we've turned a corner."