Carroll to replace resident troopers

County police force might be established

March 21, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Carroll County, the last jurisdiction in Maryland to rely on the state police for local law enforcement, will phase out the expensive program in favor of its own force, officials said yesterday.

Bowing to the pressures of its population growth, which stretched thin the manpower the Maryland State Police was willing to devote to a resident trooper program, the Carroll County commissioners agreed that they will have to begin planning for a transition soon.

Replacing Carroll's resident troopers with local sheriff's deputies or a new county police force should take three to five years, state police Superintendent Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins and the county commissioners said during a meeting yesterday to discuss the transition. But neither Hutchins nor the commissioners said when that change might occur.

Carroll officials said they need more officers to patrol the growing suburban county while trying to hold down taxpayer costs. Carroll pays close to $5 million annually for the contract with the state police.

"We've been operating under the assumption that we need to be ready" for a change in law enforcement, Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said.

The Westminster state police barracks has served as Carroll's main law enforcement agency since 1974, when the resident trooper program began. Five troopers also serve as the municipal force in the town of Mount Airy.

The county has considered discontinuing the resident trooper program since the state cut funding for it 15 years ago.

Although Carroll has a low crime rate, it lacks a strong police presence. The county has about 1.2 sworn police officers per 1,000 residents, compared with the state average of 2.5 per 1,000 people, Carroll Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning said.

In 17 of Maryland's 23 counties, the primary law enforcement agency is a sheriff's department, while the state's five largest jurisdictions have police chiefs appointed to head local departments.

Tregoning said making the sheriff's department the primary police agency could prove to be a good deal for Carroll's taxpayers. The county commissioners budgeted $4.3 million this fiscal year for the 94 employees in the sheriff's office, including 67 deputies, Tregoning said.

For $4.8 million, the county gets 45 resident troopers at the Westminster barracks.

Carroll Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said she is leaning toward an appointed chief of a countywide force.

"Most of the studies have really shown it's better to go to an appointed police chief than an elected person," she said. "The real positive on the county police side is that someone would be within the parameters of control of the Board of Commissioners."

Gouge told Hutchins that she is concerned about residents' complaints that sheriff's deputies are more responsive to emergency calls than state troopers. She said the deputies are often the only police officers to show up.

"When they call, many times the state police take an extremely long time to get there," Gouge said. "I don't understand why the barracks don't send people out on a lot of these calls or take an hour or an hour and a half to show up. Why are they not responding?"

Hutchins said he would investigate the problem.

Tregoning said he was confident his office could recruit enough deputies to take over as the county's primary law enforcement agency.

"If people weren't pleased with the performance of the sheriff, they would remove him or her in the next election," he said.

A task force of representatives from Carroll's municipal police departments, the sheriff's office and the state police will be named soon, county officials said. Tregoning said he hopes the committee can develop a plan within six months.

Hutchins said the state police would continue to support the commissioners, regardless of the decision they make.

"We're here to keep the resident trooper program alive as long as you need it," he told them.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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