South Carroll panel seeks beefed-up police presence

Freedom Area council says increase in traffic, crime merit substation

September 02, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Faced with an increase in crime and traffic, residents of Carroll County's most populous and rapidly growing area are demanding a stronger police presence.

The Freedom Area Citizens Council, a group that serves as a liaison between residents and county government, has asked the county commissioners for a substation in Eldersburg, staffed by state police and the Carroll County Sheriff's Department.

A local precinct would improve efficiency and response time, and might reduce costs when officers' travel time to Westminster is minimized, said Ross Dangel, council spokesman.

"South Carroll has the greatest number of police calls, outside of Westminster," Dangel said. "There also are a huge number of accidents here. We have all the makings for a local precinct, and our community is solidly behind this effort."

The state police barracks in Westminster assigns several troopers to South Carroll, an unincorporated 47-square-mile area, but for security reasons will not divulge the number or the hours the officers work. Officials suggested that the sheriff's deputies could share the troopers' small office near the Eldersburg library, saving 15 miles of travel from Westminster.

"This is a no-brainer," Dangel said.

With a population of more than 30,000, "there is a definite need in South Carroll to bring law enforcement services closer," said Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning.

"South Carroll is a busy area by virtue of its population and its many businesses," he said.

In an emergency, Sykesville, which maintains a police force, can respond to calls outside its jurisdiction. But the town force of six officers cannot regularly respond to incidents in Eldersburg, town officials said

"The town has always recognized the need to cooperate with the state police in a mutually beneficial manner," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan Herman. "We will continue to be good neighbors."

Residents believe there has been a rash of crimes in the area and point to the robberies of an Eldersburg video store and a pizzeria this summer. Residents also have reported repeated incidents of vandalism and petty crimes. And they have called the barracks with complaints about speeders and aggressive drivers.

"We know police can't possibly be everywhere," said Andrea Kowaleski of Eldersburg. "But we are frustrated with the problems and we need more of them out here."

Capt. Scott Yinger, commander of the Westminster barracks, acknowledged that "South Carroll is our busiest patrol sector." While he understands residents' frustrations, Yinger pointed out that the state's police training center has opened in Sykesville, giving the area more officers than ever.

"Our officers are in Eldersburg, on the roads hoping to prevent crime rather than respond to it," Yinger said. "Our troopers have had great successes investigating and resolving crime in a timely manner."

Tregoning said his deputies could combine resources with state troopers, handling everything from crime prevention and accident response to the more mundane services of law enforcement. For example, residents could pick up copies of accident reports or show that they have repaired a headlight at the substation.

"The substation would keep police in the area and make them more visible," Tregoning said. "They would be in a better position to rapidly respond. Ideally, we would like to have an officer at or near the substation to address whatever issues come up."

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said the board has discussed the proposal and would like to move forward, but funding is an issue.

"We are not resistant to the idea or dragging our feet," Minnich said. "The initiative is there. It is just a matter of timing and money.

Steven Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff, said the board has considered taking the proposal a step further and setting up a satellite government center in Eldersburg. But until the state's budget crisis is resolved, it will be difficult for the county to hire more police.

"Police presence is the major issue for South Carroll," Powell said. "This is a matter of timing and resources, a matter of when, not if."

The Freedom group has invited Powell, Tregoning and Yinger to its Sept. 16 meeting to discuss the proposal with residents.

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