Crime follows city migrants to Carroll Co. Task force will consider forming police department

December 23, 1991|By Deborah I. Greene | Deborah I. Greene,Carroll County Bureau of The Sun

Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Reynolds of the state police barracks in Westminster was identified incorrectly in an article in The Sun yesterday. Because of an editing error, the article also incorrectly reported the number of troopers assigned to New Windsor and Union Bridge. One trooper covers the New Windsor-Union Bridge area.

* The Sun regrets the error.

Carroll County's tranquil countryside -- accessible to the metropolitan area but away from its strife -- has long attracted people fleeing urban crime.

But now the growing county is attracting criminals, too, according to state police in Westminster.

"A lot of people from the city and the suburbs move out here thinking that the crime won't follow them. But, unfortunately, it does," said Sgt. Morgan Storey, a state police robbery detective at the barracks. "It's not like it was 25 years ago."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

To meet the rising demand for protection, police and county officials plan to convene a task force to consider forming a county police force. Such a force would replace a state-subsidized resident trooper program that serves as the local authority for much of the county.

Carroll's population grew by 3 percent from 1990 to 1991. But its crime rate in the first nine months of this year alone increased by 18 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, police statistics show.

Major roads linking workers to the metropolitan area also provide access to an increasing number of thieves who target homes and businesses where police protection is sparse, state police said.

"You're looking at a regional type of crime," First Sgt. Frank Reynolds of the Westminster barracks said. "There's a perception among criminals that there are fewer police and more opportunity for crime in the country."

That perception has, increasingly, become the reality, state police statistics show.

Five murders were reported in Carroll last year, at first glance remarkably low compared to Baltimore, where violent deaths annually hit triple digits. But the increase is significant in a county where a handful of deaths once occurred in a decade, instead of a year, police said.

Robberies and thefts increased by more than 26 percent; rapes, aggravated assaults and breaking enterings decreased only slightly, according to the statistics.

In October, police charged Gregory E. Mercer, a 26-year-old Randallstown man, with robbing three banks in five days. Two Glen Burnie men were charged recently with robbing an Eldersburg restaurant, and shoplifters and car thieves are often traced to Baltimore area residences, state police said.

Sergeant Reynolds said state police "anticipated some of [the increase in crime] when Interstate 795 was completed several years ago -- it's a link to the metropolitan area."

"But, as it links our citizens closer it also links criminals closer to our area.

"But what the criminals don't realize is that there are limited access roads out of the county," he continued. "Our troopers are alert to that fact."

For police protection, Carroll countians pay 87 percent of the cost for the services of 48 resident troopers, four of whom are stationed in Mount Airy, one each in Union Bridge and New Windsor and two who serve in drug enforcement. The others patrol miles of rural county roads, respond to calls and participate in crime prevention programs in the schools and communities.

Several of Carroll County's eight incorporated towns have small police departments, but most rely heavily on the state police to respond to criminal activity.

However, the state's budget crisis is threatening the trooper program with possible disbandment, just as the county is experiencing an increase in crime.

County officials hope to establish a county police force and absorb the troopers displaced if the program is disbanded. But in the past, the county has fallen short of promising troopers benefits and pensions that rival what they now receive as state employees.

Expanding the county sheriff's department and granting it full police authority also has been discussed. As a result, some state troopers are anxious about their future role in the county, Sergeant Reynolds said.

"We don't want to be pushed out of our position until it's absolutely necessary and our program no longer exists," he said. "If that happens, resident troopers would have to be laid off, terminated or picked up by a county force.

"People come from the metropolitan area anticipating the same number of police that they see on the street corners, but we're not able to provide the response these people feel they have gotten in other counties," Sergeant Reynolds said.

"What people have got to understand is that they are not paying for the kind of police protection they received in Baltimore County or the city," he said. "If they are not willing to pay more in their taxes, they shouldn't expect a greater level of service in a rural county."

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