WESTMINSTER - The race for county sheriff has come a long way from the days when all it took to win the post was a hefty Colt and a quick draw.
Those who want the job in Carroll are fighting it out in the press and using issues as their weapons of choice.
Democratic incumbent Grover N. "Sam" Sensabaugh is talking about beefing up the Sheriff's Department and putting the "finishing touches" on the job he started eight years ago.
His opponent, Republican John N. Brown, says the agency should not expand its police enforcement and should concentrate on running the county Detention Center, transporting prisoners and serving court papers.
It is probably the only law-enforcement race in the county with such clearly drawn issues.
Sensabaugh, 63, is a 28-year veteran of the state police whose relationship with the county commissioners has been combative on more than one occasion.
In his view, the department eventually should evolve as the county's 24-hour police force, patrolling and performing more criminal investigations along with its constitutionally mandated duties.
The county relies on the state police's Resident Trooper Program for its law-enforcement needs. Sensabaugh calls the system dangerous, saying it will not be able to keep up with future crime and population growth.
"We are the only county in Maryland that relies so heavily on the state police for a county police force," Sensabaugh said. "Sooner or later, the state is going to question why they are giving us this money. Then we are really going to be in trouble."
To support his opinion, Sensabaugh relies on a report by the Public Safety/Police Protection Committee, one of the panels appointed by the commissioners to analyze problems associated with the county's rapid growth and to recommend solutions.
The committee declined to give a specific recommendation because its members work for county, state and municipal police forces that could be affected by the options.
However, the option of relying completely on the Resident Trooper Program as the future county police force was voted the least desirable by the committee.
Sensabaugh, a member of the committee, favors the option of expanding the Sheriff's Department to become the county's main police force.
"We can do the job just as well (as the state police) and cheaper," he said.
Brown, 61, said Sensabaugh wants to "re-invent the wheel."
"Once you get rid of the state police Resident Trooper Program, you have created a monster," he said, referring to the cost of a creating a county police force. "The taxes of the people in this county will suffer. I'd rather see any tax increase go to the schools."
Brown, the state investigator for the county Public Defender's Office and a 25-year veteran of the Baltimore City Police, thinks the county can rely on the Resident Trooper Program for the future.
He dismissed the Public Safety/Police Protection Committee recommendation as "self-serving" because Sensabaugh was a member of the panel.
Brown said he agrees a county police force may be needed in the future, but he doesn't think it should be under the auspices of the sheriff.
"That post should not be held by someone who is elected," he said.
"There is a danger of people saying, 'I contributed to your campaign, and now you owe me.' "