Dark day of layoffs dawns at Security police barracks

October 01, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson

First Lt. Benjamin H. Cohey, commander of the Maryland State Police Security barrack in Woodlawn, heard the rumors that troopers might be laid off, but he never thought it would happen and he never thought his name would be on the list.

"It's a dark day in my 26-year career and not just a dark day for me, but for my people. We're family," the former Marine said yesterday. "Right now I feel like somebody has dropped a ton of bricks on me."

In all, 20 people who work at the Security barrack -- from caretaker to commander -- are scheduled to lose their jobs Nov. 5 as part of $450 million in state budget cuts. The barrack, along with another in College Park, will close.

"Right now, I don't mind telling you that emotions are running high. People are very upset. They feel betrayed," said Sgt. Patrick V. Drum Sr., president of the Maryland Troopers' Association. "We have never, ever, ever had layoffs or terminations. Never. We have always been here."

Yesterday, the association, the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers and Lodge 69 of the Fraternal Order of Police jointly issued a statement denouncing the layoffs and asking citizens to protest any cuts in public safety services.

At Security barrack yesterday there was a sense that the unbelievable had happened. The troopers said that even in desperate financial times, they never thought that they would be laid off. After all, they were guardians of public safety. Yesterday's announcement ended that belief. "No one can be immune from the shock and loss of employment," said Sgt. Larry Schuyler, who was on the layoff list. "This clearly sends a telegram that some of us never wanted to receive from the governor, that we are expendable."

At 1 p.m. yesterday, Lieutenant Cohey learned he was losing the only job he wanted after leaving the Marine Corps. He had hoped it would last 11 more years, so he could reach the mandatory retirement age.

"It's just the idea to have this all of a sudden slapped on you: 'Hey, in a month, you're out of a job. Boom!' " he said. "The governor says you're gone, you're gone."

"I've got enough time that I can draw my pension, but I can't live on my pension," he said. "My heart aches for those people who can't draw retirement. They're just out."

Despite hearing the news, Lieutenant Cohey stayed at his post yesterday, fielding inquiries and keeping the barrack in operation.

Sergeant Schuyler, an 18-year veteran, also stayed at his post. He maintained a gallows humor as he fielded telephone calls.

"You're not as sorry as I am," he told one caller.

To another he said: "I got two resumes out at McDonald's. . . . No, man, I'm flipping hamburgers."

Lieutenant Cohey said that he didn't know if yesterday's layoff announcement was a political ploy in which the troopers were pawns in a game to raise taxes. That was the least of his concerns yesterday. He mentioned a sign in front of the barrack that reads: "When you need a friend."

"Now the state police needs some friends," he said.

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