The most hotly contested race in Harford County this election is not between candidates but between voter positions on ballot Question A, which would create a county police force under an appointed professional chief.
As we have urged before, this question deserves the strong support of county voters to provide the basis for a better, more stable, non-political, professionally managed law enforcement agency in a rapidly growing Harford County.
Some residents say they are ultimately in favor of transferring the police duties from an elected sheriff, but that this step is not needed today.
On the contrary, now is the time to make that decision, so that a smooth transition can take place in the absence of a crisis atmosphere.
Keeping law enforcement in the hands of a sheriff, who is popularly elected every four years without requirement of competence or professional qualification, is no way to manage for the future of a county with well over 200,000 people.
Opponents of Question A argue that it will cost more money, that the sheriff's deputies now perform credibly, that electing a sheriff provides voter accountability. In fact, it won't cost much more money to have a county police force, especially given the current budget problems in the sheriff's office. Most of the deputies seem to prefer an appointed professional chief to revitalize and de-politicize the department. And, the incumbent's lack of responsiveness on controversial issues hardly demonstrates public accountability.
It's easy to storm against new bureaucracy and the slightest expense, against change of any type unless the sky is falling. Planning for improvements in anticipation of their need is often a harder sell. But providing for the future before an emergency is the most effective course in crafting public services.
Certainly the personalities involved in the drafting of Question A created a highly politicized backdrop, giving this serious issue the appearance of a petty power struggle. But the basic issue remains: An elected sheriff as chief of police is an anachronism for a county that is projected to maintain one of this region's faster growth rates, and whose population will approach a quarter-million residents (and the attendant crime) by the early part of the next century. The decision to create a county police force, with a chief appointed by the executive and confirmed by the council, is one Harford voters should support now.