Carroll County to hire 2 to strengthen drug force One commissioner votes against plan, argues it could be done cheaper

March 10, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Donald I. Dell voted yesterday to hire a civilian investigator and an undercover state police officer to help curb what officials say is a growing drug problem in Carroll County.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates refused to support the proposal, saying he believed the hiring of retired police officers as civilian investigators would be cheaper and just as effective.

Although Brown supported the plan, he, like Yates, is concerned about the rising cost of hiring state troopers. Carroll has a contract with the state to provide police protection through a resident trooper program slated to cost $3.8 million in the next fiscal year.

Brown said the cost -- which includes a 19.26 percent surcharge -- makes it "unavoidable" for commissioners to begin studying the cost of starting a county police force. "We need to begin looking at public safety and whether this is the most effective use of our dollars," Brown said. "I'm beginning to doubt it. We need to look at the day-to-day costs."

Each time a trooper is added to the program, the county must pay "start-up" costs that include a car, uniform and sidearm.

"From a law enforcement standpoint, these are very valuable resources who will be put to the maximum use," said State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, who asked for the new personnel last week. "I commend the commissioners for acting so quickly in what I believe is a responsible manner in response to what in reality is a public safety issue."

It will cost the county $54,000 to hire a state police officer from April 1 to June 30, the end of the fiscal year, and $80,000 a year after that.

The cost of hiring a civilian investigator for the last three months of the fiscal year is $25,300. The cost for a full year would be about $31,200. The police officer will be assigned to a five-member undercover state police drug task force operating within Carroll. The civilian investigator will help police "in every respect short of making an arrest" and work with the county Board of Education "to deliver the message in schools," Barnes said. The investigator would not have police powers.

Yates said he did not think having a state trooper was necessary. A skilled investigator could provide police with information and let police make the arrest, he said.

Dell, however, said the county should give Barnes what he asked for, especially in light of Carroll's worsening drug problems.

Barnes told the commissioners last week that his office had prosecuted 400 drug cases last year and that in the past six months, 44 heroin overdose cases have been treated at Carroll County General Hospital with patients "ranging from teen-agers to people in their 50s."

When Brown learned yesterday that the county would be buying a state police cruiser for the new undercover police officer, he wanted to know why. "I don't think [undercover officers] need state police vehicles," Brown said. "I would think they would use vehicles they've seized" in drug arrests.

Brown agreed with Dell to hire the undercover trooper "on condition that we don't pay any more for a vehicle than we absolutely have to." Dell accepted that condition and the motion passed 2-1.

The decision to hire the trooper and the investigator came at the end of a nearly five-hour introduction to a $181 million operating budget proposal prepared by the county budget office.

The briefing will continue today and extend through tomorrow, if necessary.

The commissioners will begin meeting with department heads Monday to discuss the budget recommendations.

They plan to draft their budget proposal April 7 and hold a public hearing on it May 7. They are scheduled to adopt the budget and set the property tax rate May 28.

Pub Date: 3/10/98

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