Developers in Trappe to pay new chief's $60,000 salary, buy all equipment

Shore growth builds police force of one

December 22, 2006|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,Sun reporter

TRAPPE -- George Ball is the town's police officer in name if not yet in deed. As chief of the new, one-person (that would be him) Trappe Police Department, Ball does not have a badge, uniform, official firearm or handcuffs - which might be fine because for the moment he also lacks a jail in which to lock up the bad guys.

All that will be changing as Trappe, a drowsy Eastern Shore town of 1,200, grows to 8,000 people. The town has annexed 1,146 acres of adjacent land and given developers approval to build 3,000 homes. One condition was that the developers agree to pay the new police chief's salary and for all his equipment.

"If developers want to develop, they'll agree to a lot of things," said Don English, a town councilman. Ball's salary is $60,000, and the department's startup costs are about $100,000.

Ball has been on the job since Nov. 1, though he won't start taking calls until next month. He recently bought what town officials call his "police vehicle" - a pewter-colored 2006 Ford Expedition with no police radio, flashing lights, siren or souped-up engine. Ball got it off the lot at Norris Ford in Easton for $31,000. (The car will bear a magnetic insignia that can be easily removed for undercover work.)

His hiring has caused some friction in the normally tranquil town. The police chief's job was not advertised, and there is no police station for Ball to work from, which means the town will have to rent him an office at $700 a month. Those are the reasons that Town Commissioner Walter Chase refused to approve the creation of a Trappe police department. He abstained in voting last month.

A former police chief in Easton, Chase said the town of Trappe is an equal opportunity employer and must post all open positions. Plenty of people would have applied for the job if they had known it was open, he said.

"George Ball is not the only person who can do that job," Chase said."

Ball, 50, has spent 32 years in law enforcement, mostly with the Maryland Natural Resources Police. Most recently, he was the deputy sheriff for Talbot County. He ran for county sheriff this year but lost by 85 votes.

It has been about 20 years since Trappe last had a police department. Since then, any criminal activity has been handled by the Talbot County sheriff's office or the Maryland State Police, which has a barracks in Easton, 10 miles north on U.S. 50. But some in Trappe say the town needs its own law enforcement.

"It doesn't have major crimes, but it does have the general problems all small towns have," Ball said.

Those problems include vandalism, drugs and juveniles riding bicycles on sidewalks. Ball said his presence would help deter crimes, and that with U.S. 50 cutting through town, unsavory elements might cause trouble in Trappe.

Just two weeks ago, a pair of men who robbed a 24-hour Easton Walgreens in the middle of the night raced down Route 50 and ditched their vehicle in a Trappe resident's driveway. The men fled on foot and were later caught by sheriff's deputies.

Luckily, violent crime is rare in Trappe.

"We've had people kill people and bring 'em here and drop 'em here," said longtime Town Clerk Joedy Cecil. "I don't remember any murders, though."

Trappe has been a town since the late 1600s, though never a very big one. The population only recently surpassed 1,000. No historical evidence survives to explain the town's name and unusual French spelling. Some believe the town was founded by Trappist monks who arrived from France before the English.

Perhaps more likely is a story that the town took its name from an early tavern and gambling hall called the Partridge Trap. According to a book on Trappe history by Dickson Preston, Methodists considered the tavern a "trap" where men lost their souls.

The town hasn't grown much over the centuries. Sandwiched between the larger cities of Easton and Cambridge, it has long been neglected by outsiders. And that's how many residents have liked it. But with the Eastern Shore growing ever more popular, Trappe has embraced careful development.

Construction of Lakeside, a 2,500-home community, will begin next year east of U.S. 50. Closer to Main Street, on the west side of the highway, builders are to break ground in 2008 for a 500-home development called Castle Racket. The town is revitalizing Main Street, with a village green and new shops.

The first new shop on Main Street is Mitchum's Market, opened late last year by Brenda Tighe. In 2000, she and her husband bought the late actor Robert Mitchum's farm in Trappe. Elsewhere in town they opened a market and are building a restaurant.

"You have to drive to Cambridge or Easton to do anything," Tighe said. The market serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a 5,200- square-foot steakhouse is expected to open in June. Tighe said she wouldn't have been so sure about moving forward without a town police department. Already, she said, Ball has helped clear a corner of suspected drug activity.

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