After wait for police when bullets hit home, Laurel man wants more officers

January 13, 1995|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

William C. Vaughan's campaign for more Howard County public safety officers hit home while he was waiting a half-hour for police to come to his house last month.

Two bullets had struck his Laurel home. He thought a quick call to 911 would bring an immediate response. Instead, he got an apologetic operator who couldn't tell him when an officer would arrive.

"I know I cussed at him," Mr. Vaughan said. Then he got really angry. "It took half an hour for an officer to get to my house."

Mr. Vaughan is still waiting for a copy of the police report on the Dec. 9 incident in which one bullet landed in an inside wall, three feet from where he was sitting. The report either was not filed or has been lost, police said.

The incident was the third -- and most personal -- event leading Mr. Vaughan to launch a campaign for an increase in the number of county public safety personnel.

The 27-year Montgomery County firefighter -- with about a half-dozen other county residents -- plans to take his concerns to County Council members, hoping to persuade them to make public safety a priority during this year's budget process.

His voice and others already have been heard by County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who has said he's looking at adding public safety personnel. "I have received some letters from various people on public safety," Mr. Ecker said. "We're looking at the budget for additional police and firefighters, but we don't know if that is going to happen yet."

"I think we've been able to cover the police and fire incidents very well," Mr. Ecker said.

The half-hour response time to the gunshots underscored concerns that Mr. Vaughan already had about the county's response to emergencies.

In December 1993, a home in Mr. Vaughan's neighborhood -- Hunter's Creek, east of U.S. 29, just off Gorman Road -- burned to the ground.

A month later, another house in that community caught fire. Each of the trucks dispatched to the scene carried only two firefighters, a situation that Mr. Vaughan and county firefighters argue makes it difficult to fight fires.

Deputy Chief Edgar Shilling of the Howard County Fire Department acknowledged that sometimes there are only two firefighters on a truck, but, "I don't think it happens a lot."

That isn't stopping Mr. Vaughan's campaign, especially after his own life was endangered by stray bullets.

When the bullets -- the kind often used by those hunting deer -- hit Mr. Vaughan's house, they cut through the vinyl siding on the second floor. One bullet lodged in the outer wall; the other passed through a corner of a bedroom, knocked a shade off a lamp and then lodged in a wall.

Mr. Vaughan was sitting in front of his computer on the other side of the wall, three feet from where the bullet stopped.

He called 911 immediately. "I had no idea where the shoots had come from," he said. Then he waited for police.

"The frightening part of this is that there aren't enough police officers," Mr. Vaughan said.

By the time an officer arrived, a neighbor had told Mr. Vaughan that she had seen three men hunting in the woods behind his house.

No one will be charged because there was no violation because the hunters were operating legally, said Sgt. Steve Keller, a spokesman for the county police department.

Police are still waiting for the officer to submit the report or resubmit it if it's been lost, he said.

Signs have since been posted on the property prohibiting hunting in those woods.

Sergeant Keller said the department is continuing to add officers, but the current level of staffing usually meets the demand.

"We do respond as quickly as we can to all calls," Sergeant Keller said. "I'm sure from the complainant's point of view he would like a one-minute response time. There are some times where officers are tied up."

The department has 300 police officers and 15 vacancies. A grant was given the department to increase staff by eight.

The vacancies will soon be filled by 23 trainees in the police academy. Another 25 people are expected to start at the academy in March.

"We certainly are doing the best we can to keep pace with the growth of the county," Sergeant Keller said. "Obviously, my agency would say there's more we can do with more."

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