James R. Taylor, the Petersburg, Va., police chief who has been both praised and attacked for his relationship with that city's black-majority population, will be nominated today to head the police department in Prince George's County.
Taylor, 47, the commander of a police force about one-tenth the size of Prince George's, accepted County Executive Lawrence Hogan's offer to serve as chief on Monday, apparently ending the county's exhaustive search for someone to replace retired chief John W. Rhoads.
If his nomination is approved by the County Council, which has been at odds with Hogan throughout the selection process, Taylor will assume control of an 850-member force that has had a history of conflicts with the county's growing black population.
As an "outsider," Taylor also is expected to face some hostility from police department regulars who hoped to see one of their own officers promoted. pPolice leaders have complained recently that department morale plummeted during the five-month search for a new chief.
Taylor, who applied for the chief's job in August, after Hogan had rejected the recommendations of a controversial selection panel, was chosen from a group of four finalists including county lieutenant colonel Rice Turner.
Hogan chose Taylor, according to sources, because Taylor had the highest scores on a battery of tests the candidates took last week, and because Hogan believes Taylor is most capable of reversing the department's image problems, particularly with blacks.
In an interview yesterday, Taylor conceded that he still "needs to learn a lot more about Prince George's." He has commanded departments in two towns much smaller than Prince George's -- Newburgh, N.Y., and Petersburg. Still, he said, "there is no question that I am fully qualified for this job."
At least four of the 11 Prince George's council members will have to agree with Taylor before he can take the post now occupied by Acting Chief Joseph Vasco.
Although council leaders said yesterday that it is unlikely that Taylor will receive eight negative votes, initial reactions to his appointment ranged from outright rejection to skeptical promises of "open-mindedness."
The debate on the council should focus on Taylor's record as a police chief in Petersburg and Newburgh, both of which have black-majority populations.
After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in police administration, the tall, soft-spoken Taylor worked at two small Michigan police departments -- Eaton Rapids and Wyoming -- and as public safety director of Richfield, Minn., before being appointed to the Newburgh post in 1974.
Shortly after his arrival in Newburgh, Taylor calmly settled a volatile racial incident and received a citation from the local human relations commission.
"We have a racist community, and he did a very good job in dealing with it," said the human relations commission director, Pastor Saul S. Williams. "He listened to people, which didn't happen that often here."
Taylor has received similar praise from some black community leaders in Petersburg, where he went to work as chief in February 1978. But his term there has not lacked controversy.
Taylor was harshly criticized by the Petersburg City Council a year ago after he administered polygraph tests to police recruits in violation of a city policy.
According to Petersburg Mayor Hermanze Fauntleroy, council members believed that Taylor was administering tests that were "racist across the board," even though the council had established a policy of not using the tests with recruits.
Taylor said yesterday that the polygraph tests were "common tools that we should be able to use in the selection process [of new recruits.]
In another racially tinged controversy, four city officers filed charges with federal agencies complaining that Taylor discriminated in promotions and assignments within the department.
According to the complaint of one officer, Sgt. Steve A. Batts, on June 1, 1979, a white police sergeant was promoted above him to the rank of lieutenant. Batts, who is black, complained to Chief Taylor, and according to Batts' complaint Taylor's response was that the junior white officer had more administrative background. According to Batts' complaint, Taylor said: "I am the chief and it was my decision."
In an interview yesterday in his Petersburg office, Taylor said there was "no substance" to the charges of discrimination by the officers. He said since he joined the department he had promoted one black captain, one black lieutenant and two black sergeants. The black captain was the first in Petersburg's history.
"I say it's sour grapes as evidenced by the promotions since I've been here," Taylor said.
Taylor said that his track record in both Newburgh and Petersburg demonstrates he is a successful chief. In particular, he cited his use of a 24-hour hot line in his office for citizen tips, and his use of citizens on recruit review panels in Newburgh.
"You have to be visible and you have to go out and meet the community," Taylor said.
Taylor, whose salary will jump from $27,000 to $43,000 if he moves to Prince George's, hesitated four days about accepting Hogan's offer. His main concern, he said, was that his son, a soccer player, did not want to leave his local high school.
The degree of difficulty Taylor will face obtaining approval from the Prince George's council may be determined to a large extent this morning, when the Petersburg chief and Hogan will breakfast with Laney Hester, the influential president of the county Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file officers.
Hester is credited by some with orchestrating the council's rejection of more than one police department bill sponsored by Hogan, and his support for Taylor could make the difference between an easy acceptance for Taylor and a battle that would be embarrassing for Hogan.
Two council members, Chairman William B. Amonett and Sue V. Mills, are alaready saying they will probably vote against Taylor because he is from outside the county department.
"I don't know how you could consider anyone like [taylor] in the merits," said Amonett. "It's a direct slap in the face to every officer in the Prince George's department."
Other council members who have arged against an outsider as police chief said yesterday, however, that they were willing to accept Taylor if he is found to be qualified. The greatest objection to Taylor, council members said, was likely to be his lack of experience leading a major department.
Both black members of the council, Deborah R. Marshall and Floyd E. Wilson, were skeptical of Taylor's experience. "I think it's good that he could ease the racial tensions in another area," Marshall said, "but that doesn't necessarily make him acceptable to the black community here. I hope there's more to him than what I've heard so far."