Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Carroll delegation takes police force bill to General Assembly

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Carroll County voters are a step closer to deciding whether the county has a police department.

The county’s delegation to the Maryland General Assembly introduced a bill in the Senate on Friday that would create a referendum asking Carroll voters whether they want a county police department. The referendum would be placed on the November ballot.

‘‘Under this bill, the commissioners continue to do what they’re doing,” said Sen. Larry E. Haines (R-Dist. 5) of Westminster. ‘‘This gives them plenty of time to present this issue. They can still move ahead with their ordinance and move ahead with their plan.”

The county’s senators and House representatives voted 4-2 to cross-file the referendum in both chambers of the General Assembly. Delegates Donald B. Elliott (R-Dist. 4B) of New Windsor and Nancy R. Stocksdale (R-Dist. 5A) Westminster voted against the measure.

Del. Susan W. Krebs (R-Dist. 9B) of Eldersburg was absent from the vote; however, Haines said she would still be able to vote on the matter, although it will not change the outcome.

The delegation met Jan. 24 to consider whether the issue should go to referendum, as well as deliberate other proposed Carroll County legislation.

Typically, bills that pertain only to one county are passed if they have the support of its delegation.

Haines does not believe this will be any different. ‘‘I’m in my fifth term. I’ve never lost a bill here that I wanted that was a local bill,” he said.

Commissioners have criticized the delegation for taking away their authority to create the force, but Haines sees it differently. ‘‘I’m not making a decision,” he said. ‘‘We’re letting the qualified register voters decide. We’re elected by the people. There are checks and balances.”

Commissioners voted 3-0 on Oct. 4 to use their authority under state law to create a police force. On Jan. 8, they introduced an ordinance that creates the force headed by a chief that they appoint and names the county police as Carroll’s primary law enforcement.

Since the state gives them that authority, only the state can bring the issue to referendum.

Multiple law enforcement agencies — including the Sheriff’s Office, Maryland State Police, and five town police forces — patrol Carroll County. A new police department would not fully replace any of those agencies, but the county would not rely on the Sheriff’s Office for routine daily patrol.

Nearly 30 people told delegates at their Jan. 19 public hearing on proposed Carroll legislation that they opposed creating a county police force and wanted the issue to go to voters. No one testified in favor.

The next public hearing will be 7 p.m. Feb. 19 at Oklahoma Road Middle School, 6300 Oklahoma Road, Eldersburg.