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Residents want town police department

February 12, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Residents and business owners pressed Mayor John W. Slayman on Monday to start a new town police department, 19 years after the last one was dissolved.

Several people at the monthly town meeting recounted their own brushes with crime, a problem they said is becoming worse and more frequent.

Williamsport had its own police force until 1984, when it was disbanded. The town now has a contract with the Washington County Sheriff's Department for two resident deputies. A third resident deputy is expected to start in March.

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Janice Enciu, who owns the Williamsport Barber Shop, said she recently called the Sheriff's Department about a suspicious man in her shop. She said a dispatcher told her to call back if the man harassed her. A deputy arrived an hour later, talked to the man and took him away in handcuffs.

A number of armed robberies and break-ins in the town have left people afraid, Enciu said.

Councilwoman Gloria Bitner reminded the audience about the town's crime watch program, which, she said, has attracted few volunteers. The next meeting is Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. at the town hall.

After absorbing complaints from the audience, Slayman assured people that he was investigating the cost of reviving the police department, but has had little success. In particular, no one has agreed to give the town liability insurance, a must if there's a police department, he said.

"I haven't given up," Slayman said. "I'm still searching."

Slayman said the town would need six police officers and a chief. That would mean at least $300,000 in salaries and a total cost - including uniforms, weapons and patrol cars - of more than $700,000, according to Slayman.

"The price tag to start a police department is probably $1 million," Edward Kuczynski, the town attorney, said.

Slayman said the towns of Smithsburg and Hancock are "grandfathered," so their police departments don't have to meet the state law about the minimum number of officers.

However, in an interview Tuesday afternoon, Francis Manear, the assistant director of the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions, said there are no state laws mandating the minimum size of a police department.

The police commission certifies police officers in Maryland, he said.

A department can be as small as one officer - which Luke in Allegany County has - or as large as the 3,000 officers that Baltimore has, Manear said.

Slayman clarified his comments Tuesday by saying that the proposal for six officers and a chief was merely a proposal he heard several years ago.

Slayman said at the meeting that the public lodged many of the same complaints about crime and response times when the town still had a police department.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department will hold a public meeting on March 12 at 7 p.m. at the community building to discuss police protection in town, Slayman said Tuesday.

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