Crofton residents Monday night criticized a new policy to increase county police patrols in their community, saying it would limit what Crofton's own force could do.
"If it's not broken, why try to fix it?" one resident asked. Another told the members of the Crofton CivicAssociation: "What you have planned is not something we all want."
Earlier this month, the county admitted what community leaders had complained about for years: Crofton residents were not getting whatthey pay for in police coverage. "Quite frankly, we were letting theCrofton police handle it all," said Capt. Frank Milholland, who heads the county police department's Western District station.
Residents of Crofton's special tax district pay about $240,000 for their five-member force, which originally was set up to supplement county police protection.
Increased crime and a small force spread dangerously thin prompted the county earlier this month to change the way it polices Crofton. An officer was assigned to what is known as the triangle, 10,000 residents living within the boundaries of Routes 3, 424 and 450.
But along with that new policy came a subtle, but controversial, change in how police respond to calls.
No longer would a member of the Crofton force respond first. If the county officer patrolling Crofton is busy, an officer patrolling the Crownsville area is summoned. If that officer also is tied up, then a Crofton officer is called.
On priority one calls, such as life-and-death situations or someone breaking into a home, a general call goes out; any and all officers nearby will go to the scene. Residents also can request that the dispatcher send a Crofton officer.
Milholland said county police must have first response on all calls, to avoid confusion between departments and to keep officers accountable.
He said he did not want a county officer to "slough off" calls or reports onto their Crofton counterparts. "If I call an officer onto the carpet, I don't want him to say, 'Oh, the Crofton officer was going to handle that.' "
But residents wanted to know why they couldn't have the best of both worlds: calls answered by both a permanent county officer assigned tothe community and members of their own police force.
The biggest concern for residents was response time. Why should an officer from Crownsville be dispatched before an officer from Crofton, who may be only minutes away from the scene?
A case in point came two weeks ago, when Bob Fullerton's 16-year-old daughter called 911 because someone had shattered a storm window on the front door.
The Fullertons were visiting friends in Bowie, but were able to get to their home before the county officer -- coming from Crownsville -- who arrived 18 minutes later.
A Crofton officer, who overheard the call on the radio, got to the home first. When the county officer arrived, he apparently was upset that he would have to write the report.
Milhollandsaid the two officers had a discussion about the report. Fullerton said the county officer was "miffed" about having to fill it out.
Either way, the incident raised questions about the new system and itseffectiveness. "You can't respond from Crownsville to a break-in in Crofton in an acceptable amount of time," one resident said Monday night.
Milholland admitted that in Fullerton's case, the response time was slow. He also said there was some confusion on the county officer's part about the new system.
But he said Crofton officers are not precluded from responding to any call, even if they are not dispatched. That seemed to contradict Crofton Police Chief Deborah Bogush's interpretation of the policy, which seems to say Crofton officers cannot responding on first call unless specifically dispatched.
Thedirective says: "Crofton police units are not authorized to volunteer to handle calls for service in place of dispatched county cars."
Milholland said that policy simply means the county officer will write the report. "If Crofton wants to respond, there is no stopping them," Milholland said.
"It was a big surprise to me the way it was explained," Bogush said yesterday. "We are definitely going to have tosit down and get all this on paper."
The captain, along with TownManager Jordan Harding and civic association President Ed Dosek, said the new plan will allow Crofton officers to become a specialized operations team, concentrating on stakeouts, undercover work and helping residents solve problems.
But some residents, like John Morone, who served on the board of directors from 1988 to 1990, predicted thenew plan would demoralize the Crofton officers.
He and other residents also said they fear the new plan is the first step toward eliminating the Crofton force. Residents said that rumor was rampant throughout the community.
A flier was posted throughout the North Forest apartment complex urging people to attend Monday's meeting because the Crofton police force was in jeopardy.
Harding called the flierirresponsible. Dosek repeatedly told residents that the Crofton police force is here to stay.