A police officer is on a routine patrol when he witnesses a thief breaking into a car. He makes a quick arrest.
But the officer spendsthe next four hours processing the suspect in the first steps of county's criminal justice system, losing valuable time he could use to patrol the streets.
While that used to be the scenario for county police, it is no longer, thanks to a new processing center at the county Sheriff's Office. At the new center -- the first of its kind in Maryland -- officersfrom agencies throughout the county can drop off those arrested. Thefacility's staff of 15 will process the suspects.
Instead of spending several hours questioning, fingerprinting and photographing a suspect and waiting for the suspect's bail hearing, officers now spend about 15 minutes handling suspects.
Arresting officers still must fill out charging documents. After that, however, they are back on their beat.
Called the Inter-Agency Processing Center, the new facility is expected to be the model for similar operations across the state.
"This is the future," said Maj. Dale Zepp, who oversees the center. "It's nice to be on the edge of the future."
Nearly 200 suspects have been processed since the center opened three weeks ago. Thecenter is expected to handle as many as 4,000 suspects a year.
ToAberdeen Police Chief John R. Jolley, the processing center is a welcome addition to county police services.
"(The center) saves a lotof time," Jolley said. "I want to keep more police officers on the road in Aberdeen. This permits me to do that."
The 2,000-square-foot center is in the Sheriff's Office's former administrative department at 45 S. Main St. in Bel Air. The administrative offices have movedto the second floor of the building.
The county spent about $80,000 to remodel the office to accommodate the center and new administrative offices.
The Sheriff's Office, state police and the police departments of Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace can use the center.The agencies can process suspects at their own facilities.
The center is managed and staffed by the Sheriff's Office, but other countyagencies help out.
An Aberdeen officer works at the center full time, a Havre de Grace officer is on staff part time, and Bel Air officers drive suspects to and from the county Detention Center at night.
Once suspects are brought to the center, they are checked for weapons and ordered to empty their pockets. The staff takes down the suspects' names, ages, addresses and background information.
Fingerprinting and photographing come next. A computer calls up information on criminal records and warrants to show whether they are wanted by other police agencies.
Court commissioners, who used to work at Harford District Court, now have offices at the processing center to set bail for suspects. If bond is not posted, suspects are transferred tothe detention center.
Zepp said the center will use state-of-the-art police equipment, including new fingerprinting and photography technology. The fingerprinting equipment will immediately feed a suspect's prints to an FBI computer.
The Sheriff's Office also is planning to put patrol wagons on duty next year to take suspects to the processing center, Zepp said. With the arrival of the wagons, officers will be able to complete paperwork in their police cruisers, providingeven more time for patrols.