Police seeking to clarify roles

Department asks Carroll council to OK mutual-aid pact

November 21, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The Westminster Police Department has asked the Carroll County commissioners to enter into a mutual-aid agreement that would clarify the roles of officers when they work outside the city limits.

"There is a part of the city code that allows us jurisdiction outside the city for approximately a half-mile," said Westminster Police Chief Roger G. Joneckis.

A mutual-aid agreement would cover city officers who might have to take action beyond the half-mile limit, "so we don't have to get into measuring the distances," he said.

Westminster police and officers from other towns back up state troopers and sheriff's deputies, authorities said.

But providing backup and being allowed to take action are different, said Carroll County Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning.

Sykesville recently asked the county to strengthen an agreement in which its officers serve as backups until troopers or deputies arrive. Westminster's attorney has asked for a similar arrangement, which the commissioners discussed briefly Monday.

The agreement being discussed would give a town officer the authority to handle an incident alone, rather than waiting for a trooper or deputy to arrive.

"We're talking about emergencies," the sheriff said. "We're not talking about traffic enforcement, unless it was a DWI or something endangering the public."

About 30 calls a month are outside the city, Tregoning said, adding that they're usually minor.

Researching the issue

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge has asked the county attorney to research an agreement.

Tregoning said he'll discuss mutual-aid agreements with all the town police chiefs at their weekly meeting.

The commander of the Maryland State Police barracks at Westminster, which serves as the county's primary police agency, also attends.

"Rather than doing it piecemeal, we'd like to get everyone on board at the same time, so all the police officers are acting with uniformity, so the same level of public service is afforded to all the citizens throughout the county," Tregoning said.

Only Westminster and Sykesville have requested the change.

Shared boundaries

Joneckis said the proposed mutual-aid agreement says that the city shares boundaries with the county and that the police involved are certified by the state, as every police officer is.

"And [it says] that we want to foster cooperation between the agencies with prompt, effective and professional service to the public," he said. "The mutual-aid agreement is actually an instrument that clarifies the roles police officers can take in case of an emergency."

Looking into liability

"This agreement is going to be a little bit different," Tregoning said. "The issue is, if I deputize their officers to act outside the county, could the county be liable?

"We're going to discuss the issue and research the liability," he said, "then schedule a meeting with the county commissioners."

Westminster's limits aren't always clear to its police officers, Joneckis said.

The town limits

"Some of the stuff that we handle, you don't realize until afterward that it's outside the city: The city boundaries are irregular," he said.

"It's not for us to be handling calls outside the city intentionally, unless we are called to help," he said. "In other words, I don't think we're looking for any extra work: We're looking for something to protect the citizens and protect the police officers when they work outside the area."

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