State to keep troopers in area

Local officials concede need to add deputies

`Limit to what state can do'

Hutchins vows presence as long as he's in charge

Carroll County

August 18, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

While Carroll County commissioners sought - and received - reassurance yesterday from the state police superintendent that the 30-year-old resident trooper program would continue, the local officials also confirmed their commitment to supplement the county's policing needs with sheriff's deputies.

Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins met with Carroll's three commissioners yesterday and promised to keep the program intact at its current level. He said he would be unable to increase the number of troopers assigned to the program because of staffing needs in 22 other jurisdictions.

"This is a large commitment, and I intend to keep that commitment," Hutchins told the board. "But candidly, I can't put more here."

The Westminster barracks has 50 resident troopers - five assigned to Mount Airy - in addition to the 43 troopers who patrol county roads and handle criminal investigations, making it Carroll's largest police force and the state's largest resident trooper program.

This year's resident trooper contract costs the county $4.3 million for 45 troopers - an average of about $95,000 per officer, according to Bremen Trail, the county's senior budget analyst. A separate contract exists for the resident troopers assigned to Mount Airy, with that town shouldering most of the financial burden.

State police spokeswoman Elena Russo said the cost of a trooper fresh out of the academy is about $130,000, which includes training, salary, benefits, equipment and a vehicle. After the first year, the average cost is $80,000, she said.

Memo of understanding

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge pressed the superintendent for a firmer, long-term commitment so the county could map out its future law enforcement budgets.

"Somehow, there has to be some consistency for the county as a whole, something we can rely on in a planning process," Gouge said.

Hutchins acknowledged Carroll's population growth but said it is part of a statewide surge. He assured the commissioners that as long as a memorandum of understanding exists that ties the resident trooper program to the county, no lapse in service would occur.

If the program is ever discontinued, he said, a clause in the memo gives both parties five years to handle the transition.

The superintendent said that no such action will occur during his administration, but he could not guarantee what would happen beyond that.

The resident trooper program began in 1974 when state police were contracted as the county's primary law enforcement agency. Troopers are assigned to patrol rural roads and respond to calls in small, unincorporated communities.

Hutchins' comments convinced commissioner Dean L. Minnich of the need to shift resources to the sheriff's office.

"This shows we're on the right course in incrementally doing what we're doing," said Minnich. "The sheriff's been positioning and transitioning with an eye to the future. It's prudent to assume that as our population grows and our needs grow, we're going to have to shoulder more of a burden. There's a limit to what the state can do."

Hutchins said that he and Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning enjoy a mutually respectful relationship that would help meet the county's policing needs.

Because Carroll has one of the lowest numbers of police officers per capita in the state at 1.3 per 1,000, the sheriff has hired more deputies to provide round-the-clock policing.

The sheriff's current budget is $8.1 million - an increase of $500,000 from the previous year.

According to Maj. Thomas Long, sheriff's department spokesman, the department has 54 sworn deputies, with two more expected to join the force next month. The cost for a sheriff's deputy, which includes salary, equipment and a vehicle, is $75,000, officials said.

`Will always be there'

Hutchins explained that the increased costs for support services widened the gap between what the county pays for a resident trooper and a sheriff's deputy. "What you're getting is a tremendous amount of resources," Hutchins said. "The state police support given to local law enforcement will always be there."

He said crash investigators, forensics labs, specialized units and helicopters are among the services readily available to the county.

Concern over the resident trooper program caused a delay this year in the approval of a $19 million bond that included $4.2 million to relocate the sheriff's administrative offices to the former New Windsor Middle School. The state delegation to the General Assembly considered the cost of renovating the school for new sheriff's offices to be a step toward discontinuing the resident trooper program. Assurances from Hutchins in February convinced the delegation that was not the case.

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