Howard police processing site in limbo Bureaucratic standoff delays use of new facility

November 12, 1996|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

When the Howard County Police Department built its Southern District headquarters in Scaggsville two years ago, several small rooms at the station were set aside for a central, automated facility for processing suspects before taking them to jail.

Two years later, the office space -- which cost tens of thousands of dollars to build -- is still vacant. A pile of high-tech equipment -- $32,000 worth of video gear, $50,000 worth of fingerprinting machines and $17,500 worth of computer systems -- sits unused.

And then there is $275,000 sitting in the Police Department's budget for this fiscal year -- money waiting to be used to pay the salaries of new staff for the central booking office.

Meanwhile, county officials are still debating without much agreement whether to move into the state-of-the-art facility -- part of a much larger state plan to similarly upgrade and link electronically booking offices in every Maryland jurisdiction.

The delay in moving to the new facility -- and the delay in upgrading Howard's booking procedures -- has frustrated some who have been working for years to open the high-tech booking office. It is a tale of bungled planning, official obstinacy and, now, a standoff among bureaucracies.

"We jump through the holes of getting in the proposals. We get the OK for this state-of-the-art equipment. It's delivered and then we run into a wall about who's going to have access to it, where it's going to be and how we're going to handle the records," says R.C. Bartley, a Police Department forensic services supervisor who worked on planning for Scaggsville facility.

That now unused office -- in the public safety complex behind Cherry Tree Shopping Center at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Route 216 -- was to have been used as a central site to which police officers could bring all suspects for processing into custody before the six court commissioners. Prisoners would be fingerprinted and charged there before being taken to the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup.

The new automation in the office is aimed at speeding officers through the paperwork process of booking prisoners and immediately checking their identities against statewide records for outstanding warrants -- and getting police officers back out tTC on the streets more quickly.

Right now, booking is done by hand at the county's District Court and Multi-Service Center on Rodgers Avenue in Ellicott City -- sometimes taking two hours or more per suspect before officers can leave. And it can take weeks to match suspects' identities with state records.

But for the last two years, Howard's court commissioners have been balking at moving to the Scaggsville facility, saying that all judicial offices such as theirs ought to be kept separate from police offices in order to maintain the appearance of impartiality.

They say they want to remain in Ellicott City -- where their own offices are about to be renovated -- so they can be near the county's judges, lawyers and court records.

"It just doesn't make sense for the county to pour this much money into renovations and then up and move us," said Nancy C. Pope, a court commissioner. "As far as we're concerned, we're not going anywhere."

Complicating matters further, police and correctional officials recently proposed putting the central booking office at the county detention center in Jessup.

Pub Date: 11/12/96

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