Sheridan not convinced take-home police cruisers will deter crime in county

Chief wonders if plan is fair, cost-effective

January 18, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan is taking a cautious approach to a proposal that would allow officers to take home their cruisers, saying he still must be convinced that the concept is a practical crime-fighting tool.

Some county officers have lobbied for the program, which would give them a permanent marked car to drive while off-duty to increase visibility.

Sheridan would "support an arrangement that is fair and equitable and can be afforded by the county," said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman.

But Toohey said Sheridan needs to be convinced that the investment would be an effective crime-reduction program when compared to existing programs.

"We have programs like [the Business Patrol Initiative] that have been proven to reduce crime," Toohey said. "Which is a more effective way to spend ... expanding existing programs that work or investing in take-home cars?"

Toohey said a take-home car program is not one of Sheridan's budget priorities for the 2002 fiscal year, which begins in July.

"We are in a holding pattern right now," said county auditor Brian J. Rowe, who issued a study last month that recommended accepting the plan.

But top aides to County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger were skeptical of Rowe's findings, saying they exaggerate the benefits and underestimate the costs. County budget director Fred J. Homan is conducting his own study.

Toohey said police are waiting for Homan's report before proceeding. "Until we have some real numbers to work from, we cannot really get a sense" if it is affordable, he said.

Twenty-two jurisdictions in Maryland, including every suburban police department except Baltimore County, have a take-home car program.

Police in those agencies say the program is successful, but Rowe said no studies on take-home cars has been done to show they help deter crime.

County officers could also earn take-home cars as a benefit during contract negotiations between the Fraternal Order of Police and the administration.

Cole Weston, president of Baltimore County's FOP Lodge 4, said the FOP is in pension negotiations with the county, but take-home cars cannot be addressed until contract talks begin in 2003.

"I have obtained a lot of information concerning take-home cars ... making sure we have updated information so that if the opportunity becomes available to negotiate ... we are prepared to do so," Weston said.

Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican who was an early proponent of take-home cars, said the issue should be viewed as a negotiated benefit.

He said officers have a better chance of obtaining the cars if they view it as a benefit and not as a program that the county executive and council will launch to fight crime.

But Skinner warned that the FOP might have to give up other benefits and possible salary increases to achieve a take-home car program.

"If we have to raise salaries as part of a benefits package, maybe instead of the raise we can give them a take-home car," he said. "It was never meant to be icing on the cake; either you get the icing or the cake."

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