Sheriffs group claims support of candidates

August 21, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

The Maryland Sheriffs Association says there is strong support among Harford County candidates for keeping all county law enforcement duties with an elected sheriff, rather than creating a police force under the county executive's administration.

In a survey of all candidates running for local and state offices in Harford County -- and those wishing to be members of the Democratic and Republican central committees -- 50 of 58 respondents favored keeping the current policing structure, the

association said.

Eight additional respondents took no position, the association said.

The issue, which will be a ballot question in November, is one of the hottest in Harford this election.

The ballot question arose from hostility between Sheriff Robert E. Comes and County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann -- both JTC running for re-election -- over management of the county jail and complaints from some County Council members that the political nature of the sheriff's office hinders the workings of the agency.

Association officials acknowledged that the survey results are incomplete. Thirty-five of the 93 candidates surveyed have not responded, and follow-up questionnaires were sent to them Tuesday.

Still, the association, which lobbies for the sheriffs, says that there is very little political support for the proposed change to a county police force, whose chief would be appointed by the county executive.

"There's never been any suggestion . . . that this would improve police protection in Harford County," said Michael Canning, an official of the association.

The association also argues that the change would be expensive.

A Rehrmann administration official strongly questioned the sheriffs association's assertion that there is virtually no support for a county police force.

"I find that difficult to believe," said Robert N. Hockaday Jr., director of governmental and community relations and a top aide to Mrs. Rehrmann. "We feel that it's in the voters' hands," he said. "We'll see what happens in November."

Not all candidates appear to have received the initial questionnaire.

County Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B, said she didn't receive one. She is running for council president.

For the record, Mrs. Parrott says she is dissatisfied with the political nature of the sheriff's office.

"The majority of the deputies feel that enough is enough," she said.

County Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton, R-District A, who is running for re-election, refused to respond to the survey.

She told the sheriffs group in a letter: "I will not allow you to put words in my mouth. . . . After meeting with individuals and groups . . . it was obvious that all citizens should have a vote for a political sheriff or a professional chief of police."

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