Smith proposes crisis-response unit for county

O'Malley gives backing to executive candidate

October 16, 2002|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Citing the Sept. 11 attacks, the subsequent anthrax scare and the serial sniper now terrorizing the Washington suburbs, Democrat James T. Smith Jr. yesterday proposed establishing a Baltimore County agency that would oversee the response to such crises.

"Threats to a community's well-being are now emerging from unconventional sources," said Smith, who is campaigning to become the next county executive. He recommended the hiring of a director of emergency readiness and management to coordinate responses to terrorism and catastrophic events.

Smith introduced the proposal as part of his latest policy address, this time on public safety issues.

At the lunchtime announcement, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley endorsed Smith, praising his integrity. O'Malley said the pair would work well together. The city and the county collaborate on transportation, waste management and law enforcement.

"I personally look forward to working with him in the years ahead because, folks, there is no progress without partnership," O'Malley told the crowd of 100.

Republican candidate Douglas B. Riley, who recently issued a position paper on fighting drug abuse and punishing drug-related crime, dismissed Smith's public-safety plan as more of the same from the Democrats.

"There's really nothing new in there," Riley said. "If I were [County Executive] Dutch Ruppersberger, I would be pleased that [Smith] has set forth today what [Ruppersberger] has been doing."

Riley also sought to dampen the effect of the popular mayor's endorsement by saying it was based on party politics.

In his speech, Smith, who also received the endorsement of the police union, emphasized the relative safety of the county while suggesting improvements to policing, firefighting and ambulance calls.

Many of his proposals were to address common community complaints, such as aggressive driving, which he said neighborhoods should be able to counter through the installation of speed bumps, islands and other devices.

The former Circuit Court judge also stressed community policing, a crime-fighting strategy in which officers are assigned to particular neighborhoods.

Smith also emphasized crime prevention. He said the county should secure government grants for area hospitals to treat drug addicts. He recommended that teachers receive training on identifying the warning signs in trouble-making students. The speech comes after the police reported that violent crime last year was at its highest level in four years.

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