Officer Jean Freund plans to return her take-home police cruiser to the Howard County Police Department July 1 because budget cuts will leave her without a key piece of safety equipment while she's off-duty -- a portable radio.
"My life is not worth sacrificing for budget reasons," she said, noting that officers who took cruisers home had to respond to emergencies when off-duty but would have no way to call for help if they left their cars.
"We were told that not having the portable radio is an acceptable risk," said Officer Freund, one of 107 officers with a take-home cruiser. "But my life is not an acceptable risk. I have a husband and two children."
Under the new policy, officers will no longer have a personal radio, as they have since the summer of 1988. Instead, they will be issued one when they arrive for work and will turn it in at the end of their shift.
Police Chief James N. Robey Jr. said the command staff decided to stop off-duty use of portable radios to save $100,000 when the county executive asked departments to cut their budgets.
"The command staff discussed the issue for about an hour because it was a safety issue, and it is still a concern," said Chief Robey.
The county owns the portable radios that are being recalled, but it pays about $900 a year for each portable for recharging and maintenance, the chief said.
He said the department planned to issue a memo on safety after officers turned in their radios.
"We will urge that the officers act more prudently because they will be without a radio when they leave the car," Chief Robey said, adding that in some situations officers would be told not to leave their cruisers.
Dale L. Hill, an officer who heads the local police union, said the command staff had to decide whether to lay off three officers or eliminate the off-duty use of portable radios.
"It was a difficult decision for them, but for the officers, whose life is on the line, they were removing an important line of safety," he said.
Officer Donald R. Cook, a 20-year veteran, said he thought many officers would be reluctant to respond on foot to an emergency without a radio.
"It is almost like they want you to put blinders on," said Officer Cook, who has a take-home cruiser. "It is a major safety issue with the officers. I think it is a terrible step backward because I and other officers will be leery about stepping out of the car without backup assistance."
Chief Robey said that he would have preferred to maintain off-duty radios but that money was tight.
"I am not pleased with having to make this decision, but I have to livewith it," he said. "We have always prided ourselves for giving officers the best tools to do the job."
Becky Horvath, director of the General Services Department, said radios no longer needed by police would be used by park officials during the summer.