Vote for a Harford police force

October 12, 1994

Harford County badly needs to establish professionalism in its law enforcement agency, particularly in the leadership. The best way to achieve that is to create a county police department separate from the sheriff's office.

Harford voters will get to make that choice Nov. 8. We strongly urge approval of ballot Question A in order to stop the political merry-go-round on this vital issue of public safety.

A professional police chief, appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the County Council, will best serve Harford's interests as a rapidly growing and increasingly urbanized county.

Political disruptions, management gaffes and controversies that exposed the county to significant legal liability have raised questions about the overall conduct of the sheriff's office. The county is fully liable for acts of the sheriff, even though he is a state official outside county authority and control.

Approval of Question A will create a stable police force that is not subject to the political whims of the sheriff. It will make the police department's conduct subject to continuing county scrutiny, responsible in deed and financial accountability.

The cost of the changeover will be minimal, less than $2 per Harford resident. Efficiencies will be gained by including the police in the county administrative system. Voters should not be misled by claims of cross-training efficiencies in the sheriff's office: If armed deputies are being reassigned to serving summonses and clerical duties in order to fill staffing holes, that only underscores the lack of management skills in the sheriff's office.

Harford sheriff deputies have performed well in spite of the political turmoil. There is no immediate scandal in that force. Rather, this is a chance for voters to decide the question that has been discussed in Harford since the change to charter government. Five years ago, after 18 months of study, a citizens task force unanimously recommended the switch to a county police department.

Costs of law enforcement will continue to rise, regardless of who is in charge. The sheriff's budget has tripled over the past 10 years and there is a demonstrated need for more road patrol deputies and professional services that will further increase the county's costs. The elected sheriff would retain responsibilities for the detention center, legal papers service and courthouse security in any case.

We urge a vote for Question A to create a Harford County police force.

Tomorrow: Harford sheriff, courthouse races.

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