Committee To Study Forming County Police Force

Commissioners Expect Cut In State Subsidy For Troopers

November 24, 1991|By Maria Archangelo and Adam Sachs | Maria Archangelo and Adam Sachs,Staff writers

The county commissioners plan to appoint a committee this week to study the creation of a county police force, anticipating that the state will cut its contribution for the Resident Trooper Program.

The committee will investigate employing some of the resident troopers working in Carroll as county officers serving under the commissioners, possibly as early as July, said Commissioner President Donald I. Dell. Several other options will be explored, he said.

Resident troopers perform the same duties as other barracks troopers. They investigate crimes, respond to accidents, and patrol for speeders and drunken drivers.

The only difference is that the countypicks up a large portion of resident troopers' salaries.

At leasttwo prospective members of the committee, Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman and Sheriff John H. Brown, say that while they are willing to look at the options for a new county force, they strongly oppose dropping the Resident Trooper Program.

The county currently pays 75 percent of the costs for the 48 resident troopers, including salaries and equipment, with the state financing the balance. Dell said he expects the county will have to assume the entire cost of the county's main law-enforcement arm in fiscal 1993 because of state budget problems.

If state financing is cut, Dell said he would prefer keeping the resident troopers and hiring some for a county force rather than starting from scratch.

"In that position, I'd say, let's wrap our arms around the program and take it over," he said. "It's a trained, professional police force already intact."

Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, a member of a House law-enforcement subcommittee, said it is "probable" that the state won't finance Carroll's resident troopers next year. About two-thirds of the state's resident troopers are employed in Carroll.

"I think it's definitely a wise thing to look into at this point," said Dixon of the pending study.

"We need a strategy," said Commissioner Julia W. Gouge.

The committee is expected to include representatives from key county and municipal law enforcement agencies.

Dell and Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said some resident troopers have told them they'd be interested in joining a Carroll County force if one were created.

The gloomy statebudget outlook has prompted the commissioners to order the immediate, in-depth analysis of options, focusing on costs.

"We shouldn't wait on the sidelines to see if there are new taxes, then decide to dosomething at the last minute," said Dell.

Similar studies have been undertaken, the most recent one completed last year. That study, by the commissioners' Public Safety/Police Protection Committee, recommended expanding the Sheriff's Department into a countywide police force or establishing a new county force to gradually replace resident troopers. In either scenario, about 50 to 60 state troopers also would be deployed in Carroll.

Another option is to maintain the Resident Trooper Program, keeping it under the state's jurisdiction, even if the county must pick up the entire tab, said Dell.

This year, the county is paying about $2.3 million for the program, while the state is contributing about $220,000. The state cut its original allocation by about $300,000 in October to compensate for a budget shortfall.

The committee will be asked to study: the feasibility of assimilating resident troopers into a county force; cost estimates and practical concerns for various scenarios; benefits packages; equipment purchases; and facility needs, including the possibility of leasing part of the state police Westminster barracks.

Dell said he didn't believe the cost of creating a county-administered force employing resident troopers would be much greater than paying for 100 percent of the state-operated program.

But Hickman and Brown said they strongly disagree.

"It is going to be much more expensive to start our own force," said Hickman. "It's incredible that anyone would really think of doing it."

Hickman said Howard County's police budget this yearis $18 million while Harford County's is $13.5 million.

"There isno way we will be able to get the same quality police force for whatwe are paying now," he said, adding that county forces traditionallyhave had difficulty getting along with state and municipal police intheir areas.

Hickman said the cost of building a headquarters fora county force would be prohibitive. He said he didn't believe the state police would lease the Baltimore Boulevard barracks for county use.

The prosecutor also said a county force would be more expensive in the future.

"A county police chief wants his own crime lab, helicopters," he said. "They want control over their operation. It's the nature of a government agency."

Brown, whose election campaign centered on his opposition to the Sheriff's Department expanding intoa county police force, said now is the wrong time to think about creating a new force.

"Some day we will have to think about starting a county force, but there couldn't be a worse time," Brown said.

He reiterated his campaign position that a county police force would cause taxes to go up.

"I'd rather see any tax increase go to the schools," he said.

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