Police discretion in enforcing laws upheld Resident xTC criticized golf carts on streets

June 24, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

If Crofton police were telling Charlie Wolfe that walking on private Crofton Country Club property was trespassing, they also should have been keeping the club's golf carts off public streets. Both are against the law and police should enforce all the laws, Wolfe argued.

No, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled yesterday, police have discretion in enforcing laws. They do not have to enforce state laws that bar unregistered motor vehicles from public roadways.

"It's good to hear," said Barbara K. Swann, Crofton town manager.

The court's opinion upheld an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge's 1997 decision to dismiss Wolfe's complaint, and agreed with the town that it is not up to the courts to set Crofton's policing priorities.

Wolfe, 56, a retired federal prison official who continues to walk on the country club's land almost daily, said he will not appeal. His neighbor and attorney, Robert P. Slaby, advised against it.

A dispute started about three years ago, when country club officials and later Crofton warned Wolfe about trespassing on the 200-plus-acre grounds and told him to leave. He did, after a fashion.

"I asked the police to enforce the law on unlicensed motor vehicles using public roads," he said, adding that the violation was in their clear view. "I asked them what other laws they aren't enforcing. They wouldn't tell me. I wanted to know so I can go out and challenge them."

His irritation, he said, was with selective enforcement.

"I'd just like for the cops to be consistent in enforcing the laws. I don't think I am asking for too much. My beef is not with the Crofton Country Club, it's with the Crofton Civic Association," Wolfe said.

His letters to the governing body went unanswered. In January 1997 he sued, insisting that association officials force the six police officers to crack down on the golf carts. Because the public streets run through the country club, golfers must cross four streets to play.

He suspects the association has a pact not to pursue country club vehicles -- including a beer wagon and maintenance trucks.

Town officials said otherwise.

"I think it truly is a matter of law enforcement priorities," said Frederick C. Sussman, attorney for the association.

Town manager Swann said safety has not been an issue. In the more than 30 years the club has been in operation, there has never been a cart-car crash. Golf carts yield to the licensed vehicles. Walden Golf Club, also in Crofton, has a bridge for carts, but Crofton Country Club has no plans to build one, said manager Gary Morrow.

The three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals said it did not need to address another issue that Slaby raised, a contention that the association police department is illegally constituted.

Judges were unsure what relief Wolfe wanted. "Does he seek round-the-clock patrols at each of the four locations where the cart paths bisect the public streets? Does he merely seek to ensure that police officers enforce flagrant violations -- for example, when a golf cart operator detours onto the public street and goes joy riding?" they wrote.

But he may have gotten some relief outside of court.

For the past two years, there's been something of a truce: The police have left him alone, and he walks the country club property, generally staying away from the golf course, for two hours a day. Occasionally, a country club employee reminds him that he is trespassing and should leave. He does, he said, "when I am done."

Pub Date: 6/24/98

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