The Brentwood Police Department is starting over, from scratch.
The town let go of the department’s only remaining full-time employee — Chief Jason Copeland — and hired interim chief Samuel Prue of Fort Washington on Aug. 20 to rebuild the force, which was disbanded in 1972 and reinstated in 2009.
“The force never got established properly when they reformed it a few years ago, so we’re hoping to do it the right way this time,” Councilman Jason Barnett said.
The town also hired John O’Connor on Aug. 26 as a full-time officer. O’Connor worked under Prue in Seat Pleasant’s 14-member police department, where Prue was the chief from 2010 to 2012. According to O’Connor, the Brentwood force has been mismanaged since its reinstatement, with slow response times and inefficient budgeting.
Brentwood Mayor Betty-Jean Schmiedigen said Copeland, who became chief in March, was relieved of his duties Aug. 2 “for personal reasons which cannot be disclosed.”
Copeland could not be reached for comment.
Schmiedigen and the Town Council, all newly elected May 6, approved funds in June to add two additional part-time officers to the force and a full-time officer this fiscal year. The town had one full-time officer and one police chief position before the fiscal 2014 budget was passed.
By the end November, O’Connor said the department will include a chief; two full-time officers; two part-time officers; and five volunteer reserve officers, which are unpaid positions. One of the reserve positions will be converted into a full-time officer if officials are able to find additional revenue in the budget.
“We have the benefit of having a more pro-police department council,” said Jeff Clark, a former Brentwood councilman.
Barnett said the town hired Prue, 66, because of his experience hiring police staff. Prue said he was one of the first members of the Seat Pleasant Police Department when it was established in 1992 and he previously worked for the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department.
Barnett said the town has started searching for a police chief to replace Prue, whose tenure is expected to last up to eight months.
“In the interim, there are things that you have to do for the county, for the state, in order to keep your certification as a police department,” Prue said. “... I’ll do those things for them while they get themselves together to pick a permanent chief.”
On Aug. 17, the department enrolled in the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc., a credentialed authority that certifies public safety agencies. O’Connor said enrolling in CALEA will help the force “set up a guideline and structure for running the police department in a professional manner.” He said the stringent accreditation process could take up to a year.
Roger Rudder, who was mayor from 2011 to 2013, said Copeland was effective in the role as chief.
“We need the police department. I don’t know that we needed to break down what we had and rebuild it, but that’s the decision of the new mayor and council,” Rudder said.
Brentwood crime statistics were not immediately available.
Peter McAvoy said he has not noticed a police presence in his three years residing in Brentwood and did not see the need for additional officers.
“It should just have the county’s or Mount Rainier,” McAvoy said, referring to Brentwood policing duties. “It’s kind of pointless to me that it has a police force.”