Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan announced yesterday that his press aide, John E. (Jack) McHale, would assume command of the county police department while Hogan renews his search for a chief of police.
Hogan said that McHale, 54, a former FBI official who has never worked for a local police force, would replace Acting Chief Joseph D. Vasco on Dec. 28 -- the day Vasco's term expires. McHale would serve until early March if a new chief is not found and confirmed by the County Council during that period.
The selection of McHale as the new acting chief was characterized by many police leaders and politicians in Upper Marlboro as a retaliatory strike by Hogan against the forces that encouraged the council's rejection Monday night of James R. Taylor, Hogan's first nominee for chief.
"It's obviously a very vindictive move by Hogan," said Laney Hester, the police union president who quarreled openly and bitterly with the county executive over the Taylor nomination. "What Hogan is doing is taking out his displeasure with the legislative branch on the police department. It's not a very professional response."
However, Hogan's aides insisted that McHale's appointment was one of convenience, not retribution. "We weren't retaliating," said Lawrence Hogan Jr., the executive's son and key aide. "We were thinking about using McHale even before the council voted."
By choosing McHale, Hogan overlooked several high-ranking county police administrations, including Maj. Rice Turner, who as one of four finalist in the last search for a chief earned the endorsement of police rank-and-file.
Vasco, who by county law could not serve as acting chief beyond the end of this month, is favored by the police union and some council members as a permanent chief. But Hogan several months ago said Vasco was out of the running because of his record in race relations, which the county executive claimed was unacceptable.
Hogan's feelings toward Vasco took a turn for the worse last week, according to several sources, when the country executive began hearing reports that Vasco was actively lobbying against the confirmation of Taylor, the police chief in Petersburg, Va.
It was McHale, as Hogan's press aide and police adviser, who organized the executive's five-month search for a chief, helped convince Hogan that Taylor was the right man for the job, and then led the unsuccessful lobbying effort to get Taylor confirmed by the council.
"The ball took a funny bounce, didn't it?" said McHale after his appointment was announced.
Hogan, disheartened by the council's 8-to-3 rejection of Taylor Monday night refused to comment directly on the police chief dispute yesterday. His assistants said the executive had decided not to talk to the press about the issue until he had decided on a new nominee. Asked how long the search for a chief might take, Hogan's son said: "It might be 60 days, or it might take a year. This time we're not going to discuss it."
County police officials and council members reacted to McHale's appointment with a mixture of anger and humor.
When informed that Hogan had decided to let him serve out his remaining three weeks as acting chief, Vasco stepped under a public address speaker in the council chambers, looked up in the direction of Hogan's office, and said mockingly, "Thanks a lot, boss."
"All I would say is that in two months, McHale would have to come before the council to stay on," said Parris Glendening, who took over as council chairman yesterday. "He better do some good work between now and then."
McHale, who has worked in Hogan's office for nearly a year, directed the FBI's organized crime intelligence unit for 16 years until his retirement in 1978. He first met Hogan when both men worked for the FBI in San Francisco.