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A conversation with Sheriff Charles Mades

September 17, 1999

Editor's note: Charles F. Mades has been sheriff of Washington County for 13 years, winning four elections. Recently, we asked several people in the community to give us questions to ask the sheriff. What follows are his answers in his own words, edited for space.




Please explain the structure of the Sheriff's Department and the division of manpower among its three major units.

''The Washington County Sheriff's Office is a full-service department. In other words, out of 24 sheriffs in Maryland, only about 10 of us still have the responsibility of our local detention centers.

So, the inherent duties of a sheriff are service of process, transporting prisoners and protecting the courts.

Other than that, everything else we've managed to expound on or expand our duties, such as the law enforcement responsibilities and operations of our detention centers have all come about because I think the public is satisfied with the level of service and the fact that we are responsive to the needs of the community.

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That goes a long way, because then it's up to me to take that message to the County Commissioners, who are my funding authority.

A sheriff is a state constitutional officer funded by county government. And of course, we get our share of federal grants and state aid and so forth. But basically, the majority of our budget comes from the county. And this year's budget is a whopping $9.9 million, employing 200 people.

And naturally, the majority of that budget is $5.5 million in the detention center, $3.5 million in the patrol division. And I imagine 90-some percent of all that is based on salaries and benefits packages for the employees.

We still have one of the lowest operating budgets for law enforcement in the state of Maryland, considering our people.''

What is the breakdown in manpower among those three?

''Roughly, there's 14 or 15 people assigned to judicial; 95 in the detention center and that's probably the other 70 or 80 are in the patrol division, which includes the support staff, secretaries, radio dispatchers, records clerks. And in the jail, that's your clarification people, your cooks, your commissary people, etc.''

How much did having a law enforcement background - particularly in Washington County - prepare you for the job of sheriff?

''I guess when you come from a bigger agency, whether it's federal or state, their policies are, if it's good enough here, it should be good enough everywhere, and we try to apply it that way.

"Whereas, right in Washington County, when you're local policing, you know what's good for the community, and you try to adapt to that.

"And a lot of our policy is generated by the way we deal with people. I think it works better when you're in a community, you're meeting the people, you're responsive to their needs.

"Half of the Maryland sheriffs are retired state troopers. I think that holds a lot of clout in the outlying communities - I say outlying, because you get in the major metropolitan areas and there's not a lot of exposure to the Maryland State Police. They deal with their county police or their municipal police.

"I guess, too, being prepared with a law enforcement background prepares you for that part of the job. The very complicated issues that we deal with today are not only in the corrections field, but the personnel issues you have to deal with.

"It's always nice to go to a management school or a personnel type training school where you learn to deal with the personnel issues that pop up, because fortunately we have a great staff here but, too, it becomes necessary every now and then to talk to people.''

Should the sheriff continue to be a partisan, elected position, or would the county be better served by an appointed professional?

''There's only two or three sheriffs that I'm aware of in the entire United States that are appointed. Everywhere else, they're elected. I think they're part of the electoral system because it proves it works.

"If we're not doing our job after four years, we're voted out of office. If I was appointed, I'd have to serve five County Commissioners or a county administrator and keep a job.

"On the other hand, being re-elected to my fourth term, I feel I'm doing something right because I've been re-elected for four terms. If I wasn't, I would have been voted out of office, I'm sure, after four years."

What was the most interesting case you or your deputies have ever handled?

''I've had two, since I've been here. And knowing the people personally. When Judge (John) Corderman was a victim of a bombing, that was one. The way it changed our thinking about courtroom and courthouse security and providing protection to the judges. It was a whole new thing. We just didn't think that could occur in Washington County, Md.

"And the second was before that one, when Judge Paul Ottinger disappeared and later walked in that main entrance of that Washington County Detention Center and said he wanted to see me to give himself up.

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