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Booking facility talks may intensify

December 18, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The Washington County Commissioners said Tuesday they are willing to begin serious talks about creating a central booking facility that would speed up the arrest process for area police departments.

They said, however, the state and the City of Hagerstown would have to contribute a fair share of funding to make the project a reality.

A central booking facility, which would be at the Washington County Detention Center, would free law enforcement officers from processing arrests and allow them to get back on the streets faster, law enforcement officials have said.

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Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades has said correctional employees would process the arrests. About eight additional employees would be needed to staff the facility.

The County Commissioners and city officials plan to discuss the issue today with members of the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to find out what funding options are available.

"It would have to be a shared resource ..." Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said. "If they expect the county to pick up the whole share, it's not going to happen."

"Yeah, it's going to have to come from them," Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said the city has supported a central booking facility for about two years, when talks about creating one began.

But when asked whether the city would contribute funds for such a project, Breichner responded, "It's probably the first time that question has been broached, to be truthful. We don't know what the costs are."

Mades has said such a facility, which would require renovations to the detention center, would cost several million dollars.

Breichner said he assumes the state would cover the costs to construct the facility and that the commissioners would seek funding assistance elsewhere for operational costs.

"We haven't really reached the point where we need to sit down and discuss that," Breichner said.

Del. Chris Shank, R-Washington, said he didn't know whether state funds would be available for the facility in the near future because of anticipated budget constraints in the next fiscal year.

"I don't want to rule it out by any means," Shank said. "But in terms of the state's financial situation, our primary concern is getting through the year without a tax increase and not having to lay off state employees."

Shank said the proposed facility has merit but that it may have to be a long-term project.

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said she didn't know where the proposed project would fall in terms of priority for the county, but said city, county and state officials should start discussing it soon.

"We're not going to get anywhere if we don't start talking about it," Nipps said Tuesday night.

Nipps and Shank said a central booking facility might end up saving money since it would consolidate a police function with other departments.

Such a facility would shave about two hours off the arrest process for Hagerstown police officers, who made about 4,000 arrests last year, Chief Arthur Smith said Tuesday.

That would free up a significant amount of additional hours for officers to be out on the streets, he said.

Once an arrest is made, an officer would be able to transport the person in custody to the central booking facility, where that person would be processed by facility employees and then held or released on bail, depending on the decision of a Washington County District Court commissioner.

Currently, city police officers must process the person in custody at the police department's headquarters and then wait until a court commissioner is available to set bail or release the person. In the meantime, the person in custody is held in an outdated cellblock at police headquarters, Smith said.

Once a court commissioner is available, the officer must take the person to District Court and wait until bail is determined. Then the officer must transport that person back to the detention center, Smith said.

"That takes time," he said.

"This is a way to put some officers back on the street," County Commissioner James F. Kercheval said.

Other police departments in the county would also see a faster arrest process, Smith said.

Snook said city police would benefit more from a central booking facility than the sheriff's department.

"The city is still in the county," Kercheval said.

Smith said the city would receive the greatest benefit because the Hagerstown Police Department makes more arrests than other police departments in the county.

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