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Sheriff briefs residents on town policing

March 13, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Support for starting a town police department in Williamsport may have dwindled Wednesday after several residents were given information about the complexities of law enforcement.

During a two-hour meeting at the Byron Memorial Park community building, Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades and some of his officers spoke at length on community policing, coverage, expenses, training, scheduling and crime.

An audience of about 15 listened. A few spoke up, including Regina Yohe, who said she changed her mind after hearing the facts.

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"I'd like to apologize to all of you," said Yohe, who lost in the March 3 Town Council election. "I was one of those who (wanted) a new police department. ... After hearing everything, I'm satisfied with the way it is."

Two deputies are assigned to Williamsport during the week. A third deputy is scheduled to begin Monday, and Mayor John W. Slayman has said he will seek a fourth deputy.

Wednesday's meeting came about after several residents and business owners voiced concerns in recent months about crime and police coverage, particularly after a series of armed robberies and break-ins.

Slayman promised to look into re-establishing the town's police force, which the council disbanded in 1984.

At Monday's council meeting, Slayman said the start-up cost might be about $600,000 for three officers, a chief and a dispatcher.

Continuing to use the resident deputy program would cost about one-fourth that, he said.

Mades reminded Wednesday's audience of a similar movement in 1989. In a survey at the time, 97 people opposed having a police force and 87 supported it, he said, reading from a newspaper story.

Aside from Hagerstown, Williamsport has the most calls for service in Washington County, Lt. Randy Wilkinson said.

In 1992, there were 624 calls in Williamsport, according to Mades. In 2002, the total was 2,176.

The number of resident deputies has remained at two.

Mades backed up Slayman's assertion that liability insurance is expensive. He said the Sheriff's Department paid about $103,000 last year and $124,000 this year. The amount will rise to about $173,000 next year.

Cpl. Daryl Sanders said two deputies theoretically could cover the town up to 37 percent of the week. Coverage could improve to a maximum of 65 percent with three deputies and to 89 percent with four deputies.

"Is everyone satisfied?" Slayman asked when the meeting wrapped up. Audience members nodded.

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