Off-duty officers given authority to wear uniforms Hayden plan aims to deter crime by beefing up security at malls BALTIMORE COUNTY

April 14, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

Yesterday, as Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden prepared to announce a plan to fight crime at county malls and shopping centers, the need for such a plan was clearly evident at Golden Ring Mall.

At 11:09 a.m., a White Marsh man had an automatic pistol put to his head as he stood on the parking lot of the mall's Caldor store. His 1989 Ford Tempo was taken during the robbery.

Less than half an hour later, Mr. Hayden said county officers who work part-time jobs as security guards at local malls and shopping centers will be allowed to wear their police uniforms, and carry their handguns and police radios, beginning June 1.

Mr. Hayden said the new policy for the officers "will immediately increase their visibility and should make shoppers feel much safer."

Though the idea is a first for the county and represents a reversal of past policy, it is not a new idea. Prince George's County has allowed off-duty officers to wear their uniforms for more than 20 years.

Had the policy been in effect yesterday, it might have prevented what happened to Frank R. Gill, 45, of White Marsh.

Though his car was taken, Mr. Gill was not hurt during the robbery at Golden Ring Mall, police said. Last night, police were still looking for the missing Tempo, with Maryland tags WXK 557.

Mall managers and the president of a local business association praised the new county policy, saying it would help deter crime and make people feel safer.

Chris Schardt, general manager of Towsontown Center, said he will apply for the required county permit so the 13 off-duty county officers who work for him as security guards can wear their uniforms.

Bill Bissell, president of the Parkville Business Association, said businesses in his area also want to hire off-duty, uniformed police to patrol their business district.

"I don't know how we're going to afford it, but we want to do it," he said.

County police said they liked the idea in theory but were hesitant to embrace it.

"It's an excellent idea," said Officer Tim Barshinger. "But we don't have all the details."

According to Mr. Hayden, there will be minimal involvement between the county and the merchants who want to hire off-duty police officers.

Once a business gets a permit, it's up to the merchant to negotiate a salary for the officers.

Those who employ the officers will have to pay the county 75 cents per hour for use of the uniform, plus $2 an hour for use of a county police radio.

Like the Prince George's County policy, Baltimore County police officers will be restricted in the types of jobs they can do while working part time in uniform. They won't be allowed to work in bars, to work as bail bondsmen or do sales. Anything that would bring "disrespect or disfavor" to the uniform would not be allowed, said Col. Mike Gambrill, who will become police chief in September.

"We're still going to keep the same [police] coverage," Colonel Gambrill said. "This is to enhance, not to supplant, what's already going on out there."

Colonel Gambrill and Mr. Hayden downplayed the county's risk for lawsuits by having off-duty police in uniform.

"We know that if something happens, we're going to get sued anyway, along with the malls," said Colonel Gambrill.

Mr. Hayden said a mall would have to prove it has liability insurance before it could get a permit.

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