Sheriff seeks lights and sirens for his deputies' cars

February 17, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

In many parts of the United States, it would seem absurd: the local sheriff asking for permission to put police lights and sirens on his deputies' cars. But in Baltimore County, it's true.

Sheriff Norman M. Pepersack Jr. was scheduled to testify today before the House Judiciary Committee in Annapolis, arguing that his 36 deputies' vehicles should be equipped with the customary law enforcement accessories.

Baltimore County sheriff's deputies don't patrol, arrest suspects or make traffic stops. Their job has historically been in serving court papers and providing court security.

Sheriff Pepersack said he doesn't want to change the role of his 51 sworn deputies, but he said the lights and sirens are necessary when his deputies run across an accident or crime and are obligated to get involved.

"We are not going out to ferret out criminals," said Sheriff Pepersack, who worked 23 years for the state police before being elected county sheriff in 1990. "We are not investigators. That's not our role. But I want to be equipped the same as any other law enforcement agency in the state of Maryland."

Currently, sheriff's deputies use marked and unmarked county vehicles to serve court papers on two shifts, as well as to transport some prisoners, he said. The cars have everything a regular police car has -- except the flashing lights and sirens.

Baltimore County deputies have all been trained in police academies and carry sidearms.

Their cars come equipped with police radios. They can listen to state and local police broadcasts and use their radios to call in a traffic accident or a crime.

Since he's been in office, Sheriff Pepersack has talked about making the department more professional and expanding its role. In 1991, however, his plans hit a snag.

After announcing that his deputies would begin doing some of the work of regular police officers, Sheriff Pepersack got a letter from County Attorney H. Emslie Parks that said the county doesn't have insurance to cover an expanded police role for deputies. Yesterday, Mr. Parks said his legal opinion remains the same, that sheriff's deputies should not be doing the work of regular county police officers, because of the liability problem.

But Sheriff Pepersack insists that the role would not change, even though his deputies would use the lights at accident scenes and to pull over a drunken or reckless driver.

In those cases, he said, his men and women would call in the regular police and wait until they arrived.

Still, he said, if two of his deputies walked into a convenience store robbery, they would be "obligated" to take action. "If something happens, by law, we have to respond. They're sworn law enforcement officers. They took an oath. Anything less just wouldn't be right."

The lights and sirens bill was introduced as a courtesy by Del. E. Farrall Maddox, D-6th, chairman of the Baltimore County delegation.

"He feels they ought to have the flashing lights," said Mr. Maddox. "If someone comes in with a legitimate request, I'll introduce it. But it's his bill to sell."

Sheriff Pepersack said the only opposition might come from the Hayden administration, which, coincidentally, had a bill that would take away the sheriff's control of the county jail introduced last night in the County Council.

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