MONTGOMERY COUNTY Chief Executive Charles Gilchrist certainly wasted no time making big headlines. True, he had made some campaign noises in August about the job being done by Police Chief Robert J. diGrazia, but now -- barely four days into the new county administration -- Mr. Gilchrist has fired the chief. Quite aside from what one may think about the outspoken chief's policies and however vigorously Mr. diGrazia fights his firing, Mr. Gilchrist had perfectly sound reasons for the dismissal. The county executive should be free to select the people he wants at the top levels of his administration, and, in this instance, Mr. Gilchrist had concluded that the police chief "was no longer effective." We agree.
To agree, however, is not to say that Mr. diGrazia's two years as chief were bad. On the contrary, his ideas and policies aimed at changing the image and style of police work -- preaching that his officers should be "social workers with guns" who focus on helping citizens -- were by and large constructive objectives. But just as other change-oriented police chiefs around the country have found, the rank-and-file in police departments is not at all impressed with changes in the status quo; and Mr. deGrazia further incensed the force by needlessly bad-mouthing them to the point where officers throughout the department -- whites and blacks -- were near rebellion.
Without caving in to any "demands" or threats from police officers, Mr. Gilchrist merely moved to get the police department "out of this circus-like atmosphere and... back to work." Surely Mr. deGrazia must have known that his time in office would be limited, for -- as he himself predicted in August -- his "style of trying to bring professional policing into the 20th century before we reach the 21st century will probably displease certain portions of the police department." And many a nationally known figure has found the going rough in the Washington area; one need only look at the list of school superintendents who have come and gone (or, as in Montgomery County right now, aren't sure whether it will be days or hours before departure). On a national average, a police chief stays in a department less than four years.
Still, as students of modern police work note, the constructive changes often live on, and the trend of police departments continues toward better community relations, management training and the use of civilians in key policy-making positions. We hope that this will be the legacy of Robert diGrazia, and that Montgomery County's police department will continue on the road of improvement under new management.