Results due soon on Rehrmann's study of creating countywide police agency

May 30, 1993|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Staff Writer

Within 10 days Harford residents can expect to learn the results of the county executive's study on shifting much of the authority of the Sheriff's Office to a countywide police agency.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann set that time frame Wednesday during the last of four open meetings she has held since May 13 on public safety issues.

In those meetings, Mrs. Rehrmann has told about 150 selected guests and county residents that the basis for her plan to strip most law enforcement duties from the sheriff is a 3 1/2 -year-old study that recommended creating a county police force headed by a police chief.

That study, begun in April 1988, was conducted by Police Executive Research Forum under the previous administration of Habern W. Freeman Jr. It was completed in December 1989.

PERF, a Washington-based consulting firm for police agencies, was hired to answer 11 questions developed by a citizen's task force on policing appointed by Mr. Freeman.

The study made more than 100 recommendations, many of which were intended to modernize law enforcement techniques in the Sheriff's Office.

A summary of the PERF study's findings mainly showed that the Sheriff's Office patrolling duties were carried out efficiently but did nothave adequate clerical support.

The study also found that the Sheriff's Office needed improvement in the areas of rank and assignment structure, but that work schedules established a unity of command to meet the county's needs. Minor staffing adjustments could compensate for peak weekend hours, the study showed.

The PERF study recommended increased staffing at the Harford Detention Center to reduce overtime costs and suggested the communications dispatch division be combined with fire and 911 dispatch services to save on duplicated equipment and employees.

It recommended combining personnel and purchasing functions, suggesting county administrators was better able to provide the sheriff with those services.

Police force rejected once

Mr. Freeman said last week that implementation of many of the study's recommendations began immediately after it was completed. Most of the other recommendations have since been implemented, Sheriff Robert E. Comes said.

Mr. Freeman cited two reasons for not implementing the study's recommendation to create a county police force: cost and the opinion of Dr. Carl Klockars, a University of Delaware professor of criminology whom the citizen's task force hired in 1987 as a technical consultant to help it form the 11 questions.

"The estimated cost of implementation [$150,000-$200,000] was not my main concern," Mr. Freeman said. "I had a lot of confidence in Dr. Klockars and, in his opinion, creating a county police force was not necessary. The Sheriff's Office basically had good people doing a good job."

Mrs. Rehrmann, who replaced Mr. Freeman as county executive after the November 1990 elections, formed an in-house work group bolstered by two consultants from the state Department of Public Safety last month to determine whether her administration should create a county police force and how to take control of the Detention Center.

Mrs. Rehrmann said recent publicity about "management problems" at the Harford Detention Center prompted her to begin developing legislation that would transfer the operation of the jail to the county.

"The job description and salary structure for a full-time warden already is in the budget for fiscal year 1994," she said.

Mrs. Rehrmann also reiterated her intention for the county to take control of the jail within nine months and to shift police, fire and 911 communications to a yet-to-be-built Emergency Operations Center in Hickory within 18 months.

Mrs. Rehrmann's desire to place the law enforcement division of the Sheriff's Office under the authority of a police chief appointed by the county executive has a less definitive time frame.

"All three areas -- Detention Center, dispatch and law enforcement -- will have to be phased in," she said. "We just don't have all the details worked out yet."

Anticipating proposed legislation, the County Council told Mrs. Rehrmann that it will not accept any legislation until its August meeting.

The county executive could not say how much the changes she seeks would cost. "It may be more [than the PERF study's estimate], or it may be less," she said, adding that regardless of ++ the work group's determinations, Harford residents should expect to pay more for the county's growing safety needs.

Costs and politics

Public concerns have centered on those unknown costs and on the major political issue: should the county's top law enforcement authority answer to the voters or to the county executive.

Mrs. Rehrmann was quick to point out that deputies now serve at the "pleasure of the sheriff," with no job security, and that the Sheriff's Office suffers before each sheriff's election as deputies must choose what candidate to support.

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