MANCHESTER — Members of this community's two-person police force will be allowed to carry their concealed service revolvers whenever they want -- evenwhile off-duty and out of town.
While they have no authority to arrest anyone or enforce laws outside town limits, state law gives anypolice department the right to set its own rules on the handling of guns.
For the past several months, the police chief and Town Council have been working on Manchester's first police policy manual, and the gun-carrying portion has elicited the most spirited debate among council members.
Police Chief David Myers has been working on the manual almost since he came here in January from a retail security position in Baltimore County. In preparing the manual, he has borrowed extensively from policy statements in the police manuals of Hampstead, Sykesville and Westminster.
Myers said he believes the police department needs a manual so that its officers know the procedures they're expected to follow.
Projects Administrator David M. Warner said thechief and council wanted to have rules and policies in one handy, easily readable booklet.
While one of the more controversial aspectsof the new policy manual -- discussed during two open council meetings but not yet released to the public -- is the gun-carrying authorization, it is not unusual, say police officials around the state and county.
Indeed, Taneytown, Hampstead and Westminster authorize their officers to carry a concealed weapon at all times; the Maryland State Police require their officers, whether off-duty or on, to "be suitably armed."
"It's a very common practice," said Melvin E. Diggs, Taneytown's police chief for the last three years. "Most districts allow them to carry a gun anywhere in Maryland. While, here at least, they don't technically have to carry it, they might come across a situation where they may need it."
State law says it is up to individual police departments to set guidelines for the carrying of firearms.
"You are only allowed to carry it if your department authorizes you to carry it," said Mark Bower, an assistant state attorney generalwith the Maryland State Police. "There are no geographic boundaries in the state law."
The authorization of officers' weapons, while clearly up to local jurisdictions, is something in which Councilman Gerald Bollinger said he really didn't want Manchester getting involved.
Other members of the council also said they were concerned; but,as of yesterday, the concealed weapons authorization still was included in the draft copy of the policy.
At the same time state law gives local police officers the right to bear arms, it does not give them the right to use their police powers outside of their territory.
Maryland troopers are the only officers allowed to use their powersstatewide, and even they have limited powers in Baltimore.
"Localpolice officers have no more authority out of town than an ordinary citizen," said 1st. Lt. Kenneth L. Tregoning, commander of the Westminster barracks of the state police.
Manchester's policy is shared by many local police departments around the region, however. And, in some cases, police departments may have mutual aid agreements, which allows officers from either department to respond to emergency situations.
"We do let our officers carry their service revolvers while off duty," said Dennis Hill, spokesman for the 2,875-member BaltimorePolice Department. "But we tell them to use common sense. We don't suggest they carry it when they're going out to the bar or out for a swim."
Baltimore and Baltimore county are negotiating a mutual-aid agreement.
Manchester has no such agreement with other jurisdictions.