GOP primary for sheriff replays 1994 Incumbent, challenger attack each other's policing credentials

Uniforms, drugs are issues

August 23, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The campaign for Carroll County sheriff pits incumbent John H. Brown against challenger Kenneth L. Tregoning in the Republican primary, in a replay of personalities and issues mirroring the 1994 race.

About the only thing that's changed in the past four years is Tregoning's party affiliation. He's been a Republican for about two years. As a Democratic newcomer to politics in 1994, Tregoning lost by about 2,300 votes to the sheriff.

The party switch makes Tregoning, a state police lieutenant, an opportunist trying to win the votes of the county's Republicans, Brown said. Of the more than 75,000 registered county voters, Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 8,600.

Tregoning counters that he is a realist who discovered his niche among county Republicans.

"I found the Republican philosophy to be more in line with my personal philosophy and family values," said Tregoning, a 54-year-old husband and father of four who lives near Union Bridge.

"There is no conflict in switching parties," he added, citing several other political figures who have done so, including State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes -- and the sheriff.

Brown's conversion occurred in the 1970s, so long ago that Brown says he can't recall what prompted the change.

Brown, who has 25 years of law enforcement experience in Baltimore, said he is running for a third term on his record. At 69, he considers himself a workaholic in good shape, with no desire to retire. He prefers his office to his home in Uniontown.

"I laid out my policy in 1990 and I never deviated from what I promised," said Brown.

"Politicians on every level are bought and sold every day. I'm no politician; I'm a policeman. I handled major crimes. My opponent handed out speeding tickets. Even as a barracks commander, he did what Pikesville [state police headquarters] told him."

A 30-year veteran of the Maryland State Police, Tregoning has commanded the training academy and four barracks, including Westminster's. He currently commands the Frederick barracks. He has held several administrative posts and led planning and research efforts for the state police superintendent.

"The training and professional development you get with the state police is among the best in the nation," he said. "We are recognized for our skills and our knowledge of law enforcement."

Tregoning calls Brown's record "full of boondoggles" and criticizes the sheriff's attempts to build a tent city to relieve crowding at the Carroll County Detention Center, create a civilian posse and force jail inmates to appear in court in their prison stripes. Brown said those ideas were among his finest.

He takes full credit for the two-piece uniforms. Prisoners, now clad in bold black and white stripes with a large orange "P" on their backs, walk to the court house.

"You know who they are. I put them in the stripes. It is a deterrent that works. This is a jail, not a hotel," Brown said.

Tregoning prefers a one-piece jumpsuit, which he said is easier to keep track of and clean.

"I believe prisoners should wear clothing that identifies them as an inmate," Tregoning said. "The sheriff chose a costume."

Inmates have changed

Brown was criticized in 1996 after the Carroll County Times published a photograph of the sheriff and a handcuffed suspect during a drug raid at a Finksburg motel. Brown's finger was on the trigger of a .45-caliber pistol, which he held to the back of the man's head -- an action Tregoning called unsafe and unprofessional.

"The sheriff has lost a lot of credibility and public confidence in his ability to manage his office with professionalism and integrity," said Tregoning. "It seems to me Brown's style of management centers on flamboyance, gimmickry, stunts and the bizarre."

Brown makes no apologies. The sheriff's department has vastly improved from eight years ago, when it was "Andy of Mayberry and loaded with Barney Fifes," he said. In 1990, the detention center housed about 65 inmates. Nearly three times that number are incarcerated today.

Brown is strict with his staff of about 100 deputies and correctional officers. Shortly after he moved into his office in 1990, he posted his favorite saying on the wall: "NEW INCENTIVE PLAN -- WORK OR BE FIRED."

His staff deals with an inmate population that is younger and more combative than a decade ago. Some are under 18, but waived to adult status because of the severity of their crimes. In ++ eight years, the number of prisoners has tripled, stretching the limits of a facility built for about 100. Brown has established drug rehabilitation, library, religious and educational programs.

"I am not going to coddle them, but I will see that they get everything that is coming to them," he said. "This is not some cute little country jail with a tank for the town drunk."

Controversy over jail

The latest jail population statistics include many prisoners charged with attempted murder, armed robbery and felony drug offenses. The facility is crowded, with inmates sleeping in basements and day rooms.

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