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Central booking is a tool area police agencies need

December 19, 2002

Two years after the city's Board of Public Safety proposed it, the Washington County and Hagerstown city governments are again talking about the idea of a central booking facility. While neither is certain how it will be paid for, we urge both sides not to get hung up on that issue until they consider the benefits and the possible savings.

In 2000, under the leadership of J. Michael Nye, the public safety board suggested that there be one location with a separate staff for the processing of those arrested. Police, freed from the necessity of waiting with suspects, would accrue less overtime and get back on the street sooner.

That last benefit is the most important, because Hagerstown is becoming more violent. Shootings, once rare, are becoming more frequent. And this year, for the first time since 1975, a Hagerstown officer was shot, though not critically. Central booking would be a more efficient use of existing resources and better protection for the public in the bargain.

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How much additional time does it take for officers to process arrests themselves? According to Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith, it involves finger-printing suspects, then taking them before a court commissioner, who sets bond.

Because the police station and the commissioners' offices are in different parts of the city, extra time is lost in transporting suspects.

If - and it's a big "if" - the state government covers the cost of construction, where will the operating funds come from? There are two possibilities:

The city could dedicate the cash it saves in overtime to the facility. And both governments could seek legislation allowing them to levy an additional charge under the "court costs' charge that defendants pay after they're convicted.

Money is tight, to be sure, but this is a time for both governments to think creatively about how to fund better law enforcement service for all citizens.

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