Wolf Pick For Police Chief Fields Senators' Tough Questions
Gov. Tom Wolf's choice to lead the Pennsylvania State Police responded to a battery of questions Wednesday from Republican senators who, like the troopers' union, want the Democratic governor to withdraw Col. Marcus Brown as his nominee, while a Democrat accused Brown's detractors of opposing the integration of the overwhelmingly white force.
The hour-long hearing on Brown's nomination was a prelude to the Senate's determination about whether Brown will lead the 6,000-person agency as its full and permanent commissioner, or whether he must continue to wear the title of acting commissioner.
Afterward, the Law and Justice Committee unanimously sent Brown's nomination to the full Senate, but without a recommendation that he be confirmed.
The hearing was also the first public airing of a litany of issues that Republicans, gun-rights advocates and current and former troopers have concerning Brown.
Brown was the No. 2 in the Baltimore Police Department before becoming superintendent of the Maryland State Police under former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who is running for president.
Brown, 50, has liberal notions of law enforcement that have rankled Republicans, gun rights groups and rank-and-file troopers in a conservative law enforcement agency that is one of the nation's largest and is an influential force in the Pennsylvania Capitol.
He is an outsider in a police agency accustomed to its leaders being promoted from within, and he has offended troopers with his decision to wear the uniform, despite not attending the State Police Academy, as every trooper must.
Brown assured Republicans that he supports the death penalty and Pennsylvania's gun control laws, and he defended the legality of his early Baltimore city pension arrangement and dual tax breaks on family homes in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Accused by Sen. Eugene Yaw, R-Lycoming, of benefiting from situations in which the "law's been bent in your favor," Brown responded: "The law was not bent for me at all. I just followed the law that was in place."
In any case, Yaw said he had been contacted by dozens of former troopers upset over Brown wearing the uniform.
"That's a concern and I don't know how you're going to overcome that within the complement itself," Yaw said.
Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, accused special interest detractors of being secretly motivated by Brown's emphasis on the recruitment of minorities into the ranks in a police force that previously had been forced by a federal judge to diversify its ranks. Never have such minor issues been held against any governors' nominee, Williams said.
"That's the motivation. Nobody said it. I'm saying it," Williams said, getting cheers from a roomful of Brown supporters watching in the Capitol hearing room after he spoke.
Republicans did not respond to Williams' remarks.
Brown told senators that he should be judged on his qualifications for the job, like other nominees before him.
"That's what I think the citizens of the state expect," Brown told reporters afterward.
The troopers' union said Wednesday it maintains its opposition to Brown. Asked how he will manage through that vote of no confidence, Brown told reporters that troopers and commanders are in line with his request that they fight crime and make communities safer.
"As long as I continue to ask them to do that job, the organization is going to be great," Brown told reporters.
What prompted Republicans and the troopers' union to ask Wolf to withdraw Brown's nomination was Brown removing roadside signs near his suburban Harrisburg home that accused him of not earning the right to wear the troopers' uniform. His actions were caught on video. Cumberland County's district attorney said Brown did nothing illegal, and Brown, his voice shaking, told senators that he had feared for his family's safety.
"We work our entire careers to shield our families away from the jobs that we do, every single day," Brown said. "And I think in law enforcement, we hold that sacred."