Career-criminal Program Would Pre-select Suspects

Proposed Police System Links Computer Data Base, Surveillance

February 06, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

Some kids grow up wanting to be great nurses and doctors. Others dream of being smart lawyers, talented actresses and even famous reporters.

Though almost nobody plans on becoming a professional scofflaw, Carroll State's Attorney Thomas Hickman says he has plans to stop career criminals before they become successes.

Hickman says hehopes a joint Carroll and Frederick County Career Criminal Program will get off the ground in the next six months.

FOR THE RECORD - Captions for pictures of Sheriff John H. Brown and Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III inadvertently were reversed in Wednesday's Carroll County Sun.

The program, designed to get people who repeatedly commit violent crimes off the streetsand into jails, is a first for the county.

Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties have had similar programs for several years, police officials said.

The proposed Carroll-Frederick program would be similar to other programs in the state but would not concentrate on looking into a suspect's background after his or her arrest.

"Hopefully, we can stop crimes before they happen," Hickman said.

Hickman said the main resources of the Career Criminal Unit would be a computer data base and information from informants and undercover officers.

"If we know there is someone breaking into houseswearing gloves and athletic shoes and always taking the same kinds of items, we will be able to put those things in a computer and see if anyone arrested before fits that profile," Hickman said.

Possible suspects would be placed under surveillance.

"If our surveillance shows them committing a crime, we can arrest them and stop them before they commit any other crimes," he said.

Hickman said the police officers in the Career Crime Unit would not "do anything to encourage suspects under surveillance to commit a crime," but they would be there in case anything happened.

If the suspect did not commit a crime or engage in illegal activity after three days, the surveillancewould stop.

Hickman said it could be extended after some evaluation by the unit supervisor.

He said it is important to identify career criminals -- those who are convicted of two violent crimes and have served at least one jail term for a violent crime -- because state law allows "enhanced sentencing" for those cases.

Under enhancedsentencing, a convict who meets the career-criminal criteria must besentenced to at least 25 years in jail, said Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III.

"That way, the community won't have to worry about them for a while," said Walker, who anticipates trying a lot of the career criminal cases.

According to the law, violent crimes include murder, kidnapping, assault, arson, burglary, breaking and entering, robbery with a deadly weapon and first- or second-degree sexual offenses.

Hickman said the most frequent violent crime committed in Carroll is breaking and entering.

The program proposal calls for the Career Criminal Unit to operate out of the front room of the office currently used by the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force.

Hickman said a working relationship between the new unit and the drug task force is natural.

"Many of these types of crimes, especially breaking and entering, are driven by addiction," he said.

Hickman said the drug force also has the best intelligence information about crime in the county.

Some police forces with career criminal units focus on a suspect after an arrest is made.

Sgt. Mike Birmingham, supervisor of Anne Arundel's Career Criminal Apprehension Unit,said that because of a lack of staff, his unit has been concentrating on defendants after they are charged.

Birmingham said every arrest for a violent crime or a felony narcotics violation is reviewed bya detective, who uses a computer data base to check for prior convictions.

Any information found is used at sentencing, he said.

When the unit had a full staff, members did more surveillance and investigative work to catch repeat offenders committing crimes.

"We hada measure of success infiltrating burglary rings," he said.

The biggest roadblock to Hickman's program could be the county's $3 million budget shortfall and belt-tightening next year.

"I know this isn't the best time to ask to start a new program," Hickman said. "But we are in a situation where the county needs this service."

Hickmanis hoping for an eight-member staff for the new unit. Of those employees, three would come from the state police.

He says he hopes oneadditional officer will come from the Carroll and Frederick sheriff's departments. Additional staff may come from other municipalities' police forces, he said.

Carroll Sheriff John H. Brown, who recentlyhas come under fire for his budget request, said he wholeheartedly supports the program.

"I think it can make the county safer," Brownsaid.

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