Baltimore shuts sheriff's child-support scofflaw unit Squad had just made arrests of 3 offenders

December 07, 1991|By Sandy Banisky

An article in Saturday's editions of The Sun incorrectly stated that three parents arrested for non-payment of child support were picked up by members of the Baltimore City Sheriff's Department's Child Support Enforcement Unit. In fact, they were arrested by the department's fugitive squad.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the Baltimore sheriff's officscored big: Its squad devoted to tracking down child-support scofflaws nabbed three of Maryland's "Ten Most Wanted" delinquent parents.

But yesterday, the child-support unit was shut down, its deputies fired -- victims of budget slashing at City Hall.

ASheriff John Anderson vows that his office, with a smaller budget and fewer employees, will continue to find parents who owe their children support payments. "It's still a priority," he said.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

But state officials, pressing for parents to pay up and help relieve the welfare system of new burdens, aren't so confident.

"We will have to monitor that very closely," said Carolyn Colvin, secretary of the Department of Human Resources. "No, they will not provide the same service. I think that's unrealistic to expect."

So the same week that the Human Resources Department published another of its "Ten Most Wanted" lists to stress how seriously it takes child-support delinquency, the same week that the Prince George's County sheriff's office tracked down a surgeon who owed $116,000 in back payments, Baltimore's enforcement unit is being disbanded.

According to federal figures, fewer than half of the 260,000 Maryland families entitled to child support actually get it. For 123,000 families on welfare in the state, 75 percent never receive support payments.

The Baltimore sheriff's office set up its child-support enforcement team in 1981, taking advantage of federal funds offered to help force delinquent parents to support their families.

Federal officials "felt a lot of people weren't taking care of their children," Sheriff Anderson said. "And the cost was landing on the statesand the local government."

Baltimore, home to about 40 percent of the state's child-support cases, put up a third of the unit's annual budget, or about $280,000 this year.

The federal government paid the other two-thirds..

When state budget reductions in October forced the city to make emergency cuts in November, the sheriff's office was ordered to take $234,000 out of its current operation.

To meet the new budget, the department decided to close the child-support unit and fire its 15 employees, including 10 deputies. Five of the workers have been shifted to other jobs in the sheriff's office. The rest are out of work.

"As of 4:30, the whole division's gone officially," Chief Deputy David DeAngelis said.

Sheriff's deputies will still deliver summonses and subpoenas to theparents it tracks down, but the work will no longer have any special status.

"This office does roughly 800,000 papers a year," said Mr. DeAngelis.

"The whole point of this division was to take it away from the criminal division and give [child support] a priority all its own," he added. "You can devote more time to it. You can do things you can't do when you've got the rest of the load, and you're looking for a rapist on one side of town, serving a warrant on a murderer."

Forty-five percent of the child-support warrants were served i 1989, the last year for which the office has figures, Mr. DeAngelis said. That's better than the 35 percent rate accomplished by the sheriff's office in other types of cases.

Meg Sollenberger, executive director of the Child Support Enforcement Administration of the state Department of Human Resources, said the special sheriff's unit allowed the city to draw federal funds, which in fact subsidized the rest of the sheriff's work by picking up the costs of some deputies.

The state also received incentive payments from the federal government for the work done by the unit. In 1990, the city received an extra $132,000 in incentive funds.

"This is an unfortunate situation," Ms. Sollenberger said.

"I guess this is another sad effect of the economy."

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