Former Troop Leader Become Head of UM Police Force - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Former Troop Leader Become Head of UM Police Force


COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP)- David B. Mitchell knew there was a good chance some students would cause trouble on the streets around the University of Maryland if the men's basketball team defeated rival Duke.

So before the game, the veteran lawman asked firefighters to douse trash cans so they couldn't be set on fire. He went to bar owners and liquor store operators along Route 1 and asked them not to sell bottles of beer that could be used as missiles and to please use paper or plastic foam cups. He reminded them to be vigilant in checking IDs that night.

That was in 2002. And it paid off.

Maryland won. Students streamed into the streets. There were some minor disturbances, but nothing like the mini-riot that had ensued after Maryland won in 2001, when business owners suffered tens of thousands of dollars in property damage, or in March, when there were scores of arrests and a video surfaced of police beating a reveler.

"It wasn't a major debacle," Mitchell said of the 2002 victory.

At the time, Mitchell was superintendent of the Maryland State Police, whose troopers played a supporting role in maintaining order around the university after the game.

Mitchell has started a new job that will allow him to have a more daily and direct impact on efforts to keep the peace on campus and surrounding streets. On Monday, Mitchell, 59, assumed the post of chief of the U-Md. police force, which has 100 sworn officers and 50 civilian support staff members.

Mitchell comes to the job with decades of experience as a police leader. He was the Prince George's County police chief from 1990 to 1995 and headed the Maryland State Police from 1995 to 2003. He also served as secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security and has 39 years of experience in law enforcement.

He also has experience at college campuses, having taught at Johns Hopkins.

And he knows the University of Maryland, since he's a graduate and sent one of his three children there.

John A. "Rodney" Bartlett, president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, said the 2002 basketball episode showed Mitchell's strengths as a police commander. Bartlett was the leader of the county police union for much of the time that Mitchell was Prince George's police chief, and he sometimes clashed with Mitchell on labor issues.

But Bartlett praised Mitchell's abilities as chief. "Smart. Hands-on, proactive. Thinks out of the box; welcomes new ideas," Bartlett said. "I don't think Prince George's has had a chief as good as him since he left."

Mitchell is taking the helm of the U-Md. campus police at a challenging time.

Tensions between some students and police are high after the release in March of a student video showing Prince George's riot police slamming university student John J. McKenna against a wall. At least two officers in riot gear were shown beating McKenna with batons. The student suffered a concussion and required eight staples to close a head wound.

Four county police officers were suspended with pay over the incident, which is being investigated by the FBI, the state's attorney's office and the county police department.

Maryland student Jack Izen, 17, a campus activist, said Mitchell's background as a former county police chief troubled him.

"It's disturbing," Izen said. "Prince George's County police have shown themselves to have very little idea of how to deal with students, and they've shown themselves to be brutal."

Redmond Barnes, a member of a coalition of county residents who in recent years demonstrated in favor of accountability for county police, said: "It's interesting the university would hire him, given the problems the students have had with Prince George's County police. I think he got a pass during that period when we had a lot of police brutality."

In a 2001 series, The Washington Post reported that between 1990 and 2000 Prince George's police shot and killed people at rates that exceeded those of nearly any other large police force in the nation. County officers in that decade shot 122 people, killing 47. Almost half of those shot were unarmed, many had committed no crime and some were shot in the back. The police department found every shooting justified.

Dozens of those shootings, and the internal investigations that exonerated the officers, occurred when Mitchell was chief.

Mitchell said that he understands such concerns and that he looks forward to allaying them. Mitchell said every police shooting that occurred when he was Prince George's chief was thoroughly investigated. He noted that during his time as chief, officers faced an increasing level of violence, with the number of homicides in the county rising from fewer than 50 a year to about 150, largely because of the crack cocaine epidemic that fueled violence across the country.

Mitchell said he held a number of officers, including high-ranking commanders, accountable during his time as Prince George's chief. Bartlett, the police union leader, said some high-ranking commanders retired quietly if they did not perform up to Mitchell's standards.

Before the 2002 Duke-Maryland men's basketball game, Mitchell said, he assigned state troopers with cameras to building tops around Route 1. Video can hold officers accountable -- and exonerate them from false accusations, Mitchell said.

"I would recommend we do that in every major deployment action we take," Mitchell said.



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