Sheriff hopefuls study of contrasts Spiwak, Tregoning differ on policies, future of the office

October 04, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

The candidates for county sheriff in the Nov. 3 general election differ on key issues, such as implementing central booking, unifying the drug task force and moving toward a countywide police force.

Democrat Mervin L. Spiwak and Republican Kenneth L. Tregoning are career law-enforcement officers with more than 30 years of experience.

Spiwak retired with the rank of major from the Baltimore City Police Department. Tregoning is a lieutenant and commander of the Frederick barracks of the Maryland State Police. He formerly commanded the Westminster barracks.

Spiwak, a newcomer to the county, would move forward with careful deliberation. Tregoning, a longtime resident who has studied Carroll's law-enforcement practices, would likely move forward more quickly.

If elected, both candidates said last week that they would take a brief period to evaluate staff, operations and budget before making changes. Both favor an immediate inventory, an audit and an evaluation of the detention center expansion under construction.

The 100-bed addition to the jail is scheduled for completion in the spring.

Both would review all detention center policies and procedures and examine the requirement that inmates wear black-and-white striped uniforms and hats.

"Prisoners should be identifiable by their clothing," Tregoning said. "Whether it should be the current uniform or a one-piece jumpsuit, I haven't decided."

Spiwak said he favors a two-piece pajama-type outfit for inmates, preferably color-coded so an inmate could quickly be identified as a trusty, someone awaiting trial or someone serving a sentence.

Both said abandoning the striped uniforms may be governed by practical considerations, cost and the life expectancy of the material.

Jail policies

Tregoning would seek more training for correctional officers and make certain that a nurse is on duty at night to dispense medications.

"You need a trained professional to make sure prisoners receive and actually take their prescribed medication," he said, referring to an attempted suicide at the county jail in June, when an inmate hoarded medication and took a near-lethal dose.

Spiwak was less specific but emphasized that he would review all jail policies.

The contrast between the two candidates stands out in their attitude and approach toward the drug task force, a central booking facility and the future of county law enforcement.

Spiwak said he would prefer sitting down with all parties before committing his office to joint ventures with other agencies, such as the task force and central booking.

Spiwak said he would want to have answers to his questions, such as cost, insurance and liability, before agreeing to assign deputies to a drug task force.

"What has the state police task force done recently?" he asked. "I've read about a recent drug bust where 21 pounds of marijuana were seized, but I believe local officers discovered that and called in the task force.

"Central booking? It works, but Baltimore City has had a lot of problems with it.

"Would we have the space and sufficient staff to make it work here? I would want to find out everything I could before deciding."

Tregoning said he would seek to bolster cooperation with the state police, including assigning two deputies and a police dog to the task force within 90 days of taking command Dec. 7.

The sheriff's office supported the task force before lame-duck Sheriff John H. Brown withdrew his deputies and formed his four-man task force. He scrapped that unit this year, citing an increased need for courthouse security.

Central booking

Tregoning said he has witnessed the success of centralized booking in Frederick County.

In Carroll County, when an arrest is made by state troopers or municipal officers, a prisoner is returned to that agency for fingerprinting, photographing and processing. The prisoner then must be transported to the District Court commissioner for a bail hearing, and if necessary, taken to the jail to be incarcerated.

"That takes about 2 1/2 hours on the average," Tregoning said. "With a central booking agency at the jail, the arresting officer would need about 20 minutes to complete paperwork after bringing in a prisoner and could go back on the street."

With an estimated 3,500 annual arrests countywide, that would mean a gain of about 7,000 hours each year for public safety, Tregoning said.

"Figuring each officer works about 2,080 hours a year, that's an equivalent of hiring 3 1/2 more officers without additional cost to the taxpayers," he said. "It's a tremendous advantage and so much more efficient."

Spiwak is more skeptical.

"It takes longer to do the paperwork," he said. "Baltimore City counted on getting officers back on the street quickly, but it hasn't worked out as well as they had hoped."

While the candidates agree that the role of the sheriff's office is to support the Resident Troopers Program of the Maryland State Police, the county's primary law-enforcement agency, they disagree on the long-term future of policing the county.

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