Frederick’s new police chief, Edward G. Hargis, said he plans to continue the department’s community outreach efforts while also focusing on reducing crime.
“Crime reduction and community partnerships will be my main focus most likely. We can’t do it alone, so we’ve got to have relationships with our community,” Hargis said after Mayor Randy McClement announced his hiring at a news conference Thursday morning at City Hall.
“I’m the new guy coming into town, so I’ve got to build the trust with the community,” Hargis said.
Hargis, 51, most recently served for 61/2 years as chief of the Portsmouth Police Department in Virginia, which reported a 14 percent reduction in overall crime and a 24 percent drop in violent crimes under his leadership, the new chief told Frederick police and city officials Thursday. Hargis also spent 23 years working his way up the ranks of the Camden Police Department in New Jersey, retiring as chief in January 2009.
McClement said he was impressed with Hargis’ “passion for policing” in candidate interviews. McClement said he chose Hargis in part to continue the department’s long-established goals. Additionally, the mayor believes that Hargis can help move the department forward in new ways.
“Knowing that he’s been in two other departments in two different states, you gain experiences,” McClement said. “Each state, each city, each county is different, and having that experience from other places, I’m sure he’s got some things that maybe Frederick hasn’t thought about.”
In an email response to The Frederick News-Post’s questions Thursday, Portsmouth Vice Mayor Elizabeth M. Psimas said Hargis left the city on extremely good terms when he retired in June.
“Ed Hargis left the Portsmouth Police Department in a much better place than when he came,” Psimas wrote. “Our crime stats have improved. He was stern but fair. He didn’t play politics and worked well with our elected Sheriff. He was above reproach in his personal behavior and I was very sorry to see him go.”
Thursday’s announcement comes almost 10 months after the city’s last full-time police chief, Thomas Ledwell, stepped down on Sept. 23, 2014, and Capt. Patrick Grossman became the department’s acting chief.
McClement initially hoped to have a successor named within six months of hiring the International Association of Chiefs of Police to handle the city’s search for candidates, which began around Dec. 18, 2014.
The Frederick Police Department, with an authorized force of about 144 sworn officers, is smaller than Hargis’ last department in Portsmouth, which lists an authorized strength of 263 officers, according to the city’s website.
The mayor faced criticism from some people close to the process, including members of the city’s Board of Aldermen and the department’s Fraternal Order of Police, for not making the selection process more open to the public. McClement held no public meetings leading up to Thursday’s announcement and repeatedly declined to discuss details.
“I’m not thrilled with the way that the decision came to us, but my job as an alderman is advice and consent,” Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak said after Thursday’s announcement.
“We certainly had the ability to give advice, and when someone was brought forward, the question was, ‘Did we believe that person could run the police department and do it well?’ ... And I think Chief Hargis does that.”
In a recent interview with The Frederick News-Post, McClement explained that his silence was aimed at protecting the identities of the candidates who applied for the position. By the time the IACP closed that stage of the process in March, about 80 candidates had applied for the position.
Aldermen Kelly Russell and Michael O’Connor expressed satisfaction with Hargis after Thursday’s announcement. Russell, herself a former city police officer, said she had plenty of time to research Hargis and was pleased with what she found.
“I have every confidence in him,” Russell said. “I would encourage the public to get to know him and embrace and welcome him to the community.”
O’Connor said he was also pleased to see a permanent chief onboard. In addition, he praised Grossman’s efforts in keeping the department in top form during the selection process.
“We have a very strong department, and I think [Hargis] knows his job is to keep it that way,” O’Connor said. “And that’s a testament to acting Chief Grossman and the rest of the department.”
Grossman said he saw “nothing but positives” coming from Thursday’s announcement. Grossman was among four high-ranking Frederick Police Department officials confirmed previously by The News-Post as applicants for the permanent chief’s position.
“I think we’re all excited to keep moving forward,” said acting Capt. Clark Pennington, who also applied for the chief’s position.
Capt. Richard Hetherington, one of the department’s two deputy police chiefs, and acting Capt. Jason Keckler, the department’s other deputy police chief, were the other two internal candidates. Hetherington retired from the department last month.
Hargis said he is committed to scheduling individual meetings with the mayor and aldermen to get a feel for Frederick’s political climate. He said he is eager to kick off a strong, hands-on approach to policing and community outreach, including scheduling public meetings and meeting his staff.
“It’s going to be a six-in-the-morning-till-midnight kind of a schedule for me. ... Part of that learning process is actually coming in and jumping in a car with an officer and riding around,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for me to show up on midnight shift and jump in a car, just ride around and back officers up and just get a really good feel for what’s going on.”
Hargis’ starting salary was set at $141,000, McClement said. Hargis said he hopes to step in and take command of the department between July 27 and Aug. 3 as he completes a move from Virginia.