Plan afoot to privatize police jobs

January 17, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Baltimore County is preparing to put some police duties in private hands -- writing parking tickets and transporting prisoners.

Officials said the result -- assuming the contracts are approved at tomorrow's County Council meeting -- should be a dramatic increase in the number of parking tickets on car windshields, and 17 more police officers available for street patrol.

One contract would pay for five parking-ticket agents to replace the one police cadet currently assigned to enforce parking laws.

County officials expect the $150,000, nine-month contract with J. L. Associates, a firm that provides meter-enforcement service for Montgomery County, will double the number of parking tickets issued from the 29,000 previously projected for this year. The contract would start Feb. 1.

The county police handed out 58,679 tickets in 1988, their peak year, when $1.5 million in fines was collected. With a tight budget cutting the number of cadets available for the duty, the county expected to collect only $765,349 this year, finance director James Gibson said.

The agents will work in the eight business districts of Arbutus, Catonsville, Pikesville, Towson, Overlea, Parkville, Dundalk and Essex, where the county has meters, and elsewhere on the basis of complaints. They will work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m weekdays, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays.

The county will pay $15,878 a month for the service on a trial basis, Mr. Gibson said.

The contract to transport prisoners to district courts, worth $550,000 for one year, would begin March 1. Wackenhut Corp. of Baltimore beat six other bidders, including county Sheriff Norman M. Pepersack Jr. for his department.

Officials said the switch would free 17 police officers for street duty.

County Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly and Budget Director Fred Homan said the sheriff's bid was incomplete and would have been much more expensive than Wackenhut's. The firm is providing similar service in Anne Arundel County.

The sheriff, whose department transports prisoners to Circuit Court and state prisons, estimated he would need 10 more deputies for the added duties involving district courts. But county officials said he would need 20, at a cost of almost twice Wackenhut's bid. In addition, six months are required to train a deputy, they said.

The 17 officers who would assume street duty are not happy about the impending change, said L. Timothy Caslin, the president of their union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4.

Mr. Caslin said the officers like their duty in prisoner transport, feel they do a good job and don't want to change.

The contract calls for the county to provide vehicles and radios for the private guards, who will receive 88 hours of training. They will be armed and licensed as private investigators by the state police. The company must have its own liability insurance.

County Police Chief Michael D. Gambrill said his officers now spend at least 30,000 hours a year transporting and minding prisoners. Private guards will be cheaper because they are paid less, get fewer benefits and won't receive overtime for lengthy court sessions and holiday work.

Chief Gambrill and James Dean, the Detention Center administrator, said they hope to cut down on prisoner transportation costs soon by using video cameras at the jail to allow two-way, televised bail review hearings.

They told the council they hope to install a central booking system to reduce costs further.

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