Beefing up cops in Howard

Prudence demands: Chief Livesay's calm attention to size of his force deserves careful review.

March 02, 2001

BLESSED IN SO many ways, Howard countians may be relatively certain that public safety concerns are met.

Who better to judge those needs than County Executive James N. Robey, himself a former county police chief.

Judge them he must as the county's population rises, doubling in the past 20 years. It's increasingly urbanized, increasingly dense, increasingly prone to drug traffic and its attendant woes.

Mr. Robey has many critical interests to consider, but assuring the safety of citizens ranks near the top of his priorities. Economic development and the quality of life depend on the confidence of people that they are safe.

Howard's current roster of 345 sworn officers is insufficient to adequately cover a county with a quarter-million people, Chief Wayne Livesay says. But he says Mr. Robey has been adding strength: 16 new men last year.

Chief Livesay's concerns are echoed in virtually every county in the metropolitan area.

There is no national standard, though 1999 statistics in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports showed an average of 2.7 officers per 1,000 people in U.S. suburban jurisdictions. Some are larger than Howard.

Currently, Howard equals Montgomery County's rate of 1.3 officers per 1,000 people. This exceeds Harford's 1 officer per 1,000, but trails Prince George's County's, which has 1.8 per 1,000, Anne Arundel with 1.4, and Baltimore County's 2.3.

Some observers suggest the chief needs more help than he is letting on. He insists that isn't so, but he may not be in the best position to press his case: Mr. Robey's judgments, given his expertise, carry considerable weight.

Both men have an obligation to honestly assess the county's needs -- an obligation they seem to be meeting.

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