Don't Elevate State Police

March 20, 1994

Members of the state Senate should not be conned by the flimsy excuses being used to try to elevate the Maryland State Police to a cabinet-level department. It is plain and simple an attempt to increase the police agency's clout in the State House and to grab more money for the troopers and their agency at budget time.

These are inadequate reasons to clutter even further the governor's cabinet meetings. There is an alarming tendency among some in this administration to push for more and more independent departments. This runs counter to the far-sighted reorganization of 1970 that took a grossly inflated Maryland state government of 248 independent agencies and reshaped them into 11 departments. Under Gov. William Donald Schaefer, that number has expanded to 15 departments, and a cabinet-level state police agency would make 16. Mr. Schaefer didn't introduce this state police bill, but his administration has warmly embraced it.

What do taxpayers get for this extra cabinet-level department? More bills to pay. Setting up a new Office of the Secretary will be costly. For instance, the state police agency is now part of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which spends $11 million just for general administration, plus another $47 million for the Office of the Secretary. The state police portion of these costs must be duplicated. New offices for general administration, for data services, for capital construction and for facilities maintenance, among others, must be established. The number of pencil-pushers, secretaries and clerks is sure to balloon.

All this just to give supporters of the state police more leverage in Annapolis. They are seeking ways to boost the state police budget -- and the salaries of state troopers. This, despite the fact that the Maryland State Police budget has grown by 15 percent over the past three years, even while the state was staggered by a recession.

The real bone of contention is that the state police consistently plays second fiddle in its current department to the state's prison problems. That's only natural. But hiving off the state police won't change the priority set by lawmakers and the governor on building more prisons and managing these dangerously overcrowded facilities properly. Troopers may be in for a rude awakening: they could win cabinet-level status but have little to show for it except a bigger bureaucracy.

Sadly, the House of Delegates fell all over itself in rushing to support this misguided bill. In an election year, senators may not have much backbone on this question, either. Taxpayers, though, will pay through the nose -- without getting any better policing in the bargain.

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