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Baer: Guv's State Police pick target of bizarre hate

Gov. Wolf's nominee to head the Pennsylvania State Police faces issues, some silly, which could cost him his gig.

Gov. Wolf's nominee to head the Pennsylvania State Police faces issues, some silly, which could cost him his gig. (MONICA LOPOSSAY / Baltimore Sun)
Gov. Wolf's nominee to head the Pennsylvania State Police faces issues, some silly, which could cost him his gig. (MONICA LOPOSSAY / Baltimore Sun)Read more

LET'S CONSIDER the complex case of one Marcus Brown.

It involves apparel, yard signs, social media, politics and race.

It's a stunning example of narrow-minded self interest vs. sane public policy.

In January, Brown was nominated by Gov. Wolf to head the Pennsylvania State Police after heading the Maryland State Police.

A principal reason he was picked, according to Wolf at the time, was his "recruiting in areas with high minority populations and historically black colleges."

(Two things before we go on: Marcus Brown might be the only white man in America named Marcus Brown; the Pennsylvania State Police isn't known for diversity.)

Since Brown was tapped, he's had nothing but heat, escalating toward immolation.

He drew fire on social media for wearing the gray uniform of the State Police though he never attended the State Police Academy.

What clothing has to do with competence is beyond me, but this is apparently a big deal to those who attended the academy.

Brown has 25 years of up-through-the-ranks experience: beat cop, SWAT team commander, head of an organized-crime division, internal affairs, Baltimore's deputy police commissioner, Maryland's police superintendent.

So, a real cop with broad bona fides who climbed law enforcement's ladder.

But here in the Keystone State - online and bizarrely on signs - the message to Brown is he "didn't earn it" (meaning the uniform) so "don't wear it."

Signs went up in his neighborhood. Really.

A retired trooper felt so strongly about the garb he reportedly drove 200-plus miles from western Pennsylvania, found Brown's house in Hampden Township outside Harrisburg, put up the signs then staked out the neighborhood and videotaped Brown taking them down.

Then came talk of charging Brown with theft since the signs weren't his (he turned them over to locals). But turns out the local police chief's a former trooper who posted anti-Brown stuff online. So the matter's now with the local district attorney, who did not respond to requests for comment.

The township manager tells me local ordinances require prior approval for signs. So maybe Brown was enforcing, not breaking, the law when he took signs down.

Sounds like a prank edition of "Cops," right? Just add the "Bad Boys" theme song.

All over apparel.

Some note that Brown's predecessor, Frank Noonan, didn't attend the academy and didn't wear the uniform. I'd note that Noonan, unlike Brown, never wore a uniform. His prior jobs were with the FBI and the state Attorney General's Office.

There also are questions about Brown's Baltimore pension and tax exemptions on two properties.

He won a pension case that appears to have relied on special treatment but that he says "followed the letter of the law."

He's a Pennsylvania native, but when working in Maryland had a home there while his wife maintained their home near Harrisburg. Homestead exemptions on both properties have been questioned. He says they're legal.

And he's been vetted by two governors.

Yet, these flaps led Republican Senate leaders and the troopers union to call on Wolf to withdraw Brown's nomination. Didn't happen.

Then Brown's story took on a racial element and suggestions that the stuff about the uniform, pension and taxes is really all about race.

Last week, Brown reported getting a letter at his house saying "No n-----lover will wear my uniform," an evident reference to Brown's diversity work.

This prompted a response from Philly Democratic Sen. Vincent Hughes, who says it hearkens back to the State Police's federal orders on race, and from the Philly lawyer who represented minority troopers in the case that led to the orders.

Attorney Harold Goodman, in a statement, said Brown's opponents should remember "the State Police's racist history and never again allow it to resurface."

The State Police complied with diversity requirements in 1999 under a consent decree signed in 1974.

According to Goodman, the minority complement went from 62 (of 4,173) in 1974 to 560 in 1999 but has since dropped to 270 (of 4,400), about 6 percent of the force.

Says Hughes, "There clearly has been a regression . . . the letter [to Brown] makes you think why."

Brown says "I don't know" if race is a factor in some, much or most opposition to his nomination. He says that diversity's important and that he's put together a 30-member "diversity council" charged with looking at the issue.

Assuming no further Brown controversies and assuming he's not charged with theft of signs (puh-leese), he faces Senate confirmation where a simple-majority vote can move him from acting commissioner to top cop.

But that's only if the GOP Senate quells its desire to stick it to Wolf and expands public policy-making beyond reliance on social-media commentators, racist sandbaggers and/or the fashion police.