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Smithsburg reacts to police chief's ouster

August 15, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

SMITHSBURG - Smithsburg Police Chief Tommy Bowers was a "law and order" cop who didn't tolerate drugs in town and was liable to show up anywhere, day or night, walking the streets to keep the peace, residents said.

He loved children too, and went to great lengths to keep them out of trouble.

When he saw a kid on the street, he often pulled a tiny stuffed lion out of the trunk of his car and handed it to them, or gave them a baseball, kids said.

On the front of the lions read, "You can re-lion your seat belts."

"He had like a trunk full of them," said 10-year-old Jessica Burgess.

When word began spreading Thursday that Bowers had been terminated, disappointed residents began rallying behind him and worrying about the future of police protection in Smithsburg.

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"I can guarantee everybody you talk to will be against this," said Charlene Burgess as a dozen other residents crowded into her Smithsburg home to talk about the firing.

"I tell you, the people out here are so upset. This is not over. We want him back," said Smithsburg resident Jake Keller.

Smithsburg Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers confirmed Wednesday that Bowers was no longer the police chief, but she declined to elaborate.

Bowers said he thinks there are a number of reasons he was fired. Part of it may have stemmed from several arrests and citations that caused controversy because of who was involved, said Bowers.

Myers remained tight-lipped Thursday about the circumstances surrounding Bowers' firing.

"The only thing I can say is he has his feelings and we have our facts," Myers said.

The town will continue to contract for police service from the Washington County Sheriff's Department until town officials decide what to do next at the police department, Myers said.

"I can assure the town there will be no lack of police protection," Myers said.

Bowers, who had been with the two-member police department for three years, has been credited with curbing drug problems in town and helping to establish a neighborhood watch program. Shortly after he came to Smithsburg, he helped organize a drug bust, which was followed by a threat on his life.

Bowers said the threat was made through an anonymous phone call to a Town Council member.

Over the years, people also have driven screws through tires on his police cruiser parked outside his house and loosened the light bar on the car. Bowers said he thinks the vandalism was done by people who were upset about being arrested by his department.

But Bowers makes no excuses for his no-nonsense approach to the job.

"I'm a hammer head. My first priority was the street," said Bowers, a former Maryland State Police trooper.

Bill Malcolm, owner of the Dixie Eatery restaurant on Main Street, said he never worried about crime at his business because Bowers lives just up the street. Malcolm said he and his wife were leaving the restuarant late one night with a large sum of money when they saw Bowers conducting a foot patrol downtown.

"That kind of makes you feel good. I question whether we are going to get real, solid police coverage now," said Malcolm.

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