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Councilman floats idea of 'metro' police force

July 10, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner on Wednesday called on the city and Washington County governments to consider forming a metropolitan police force, a move that would be designed to change the local law enforcement structure and end duplication of services.

Polled Wednesday, council members Kristin B. Aleshire, Carol N. Moller and N. Linn Hendershot said they would be willing to explore the idea.

Councilwoman Penny May Nigh said she wanted to talk to Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith before commenting on Metzner's idea.

Smith was out of town and unavailable for comment.

Metzner said he envisions a metropolitan police force headed by an appointed chief. Officers would patrol and respond to calls in an area beyond the city limits and would undertake criminal investigations, he said.

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Hagerstown Police officers now patrol within city limits and the Sheriff's Department handles calls outside the city.

Under the plan, Washington County Sheriff's Department officers would continue providing judicial and detention services and serving warrants, he said.

Metzner brought up the idea at Tuesday's Hagerstown City Council meeting but has not discussed it with city or county officials, he said. The idea is in the concept stage, he said.

The most vital and expensive function of the city and county governments, excluding the Washington County Board of Education, is law enforcement, but there is "gross duplication of services," Metzner said. Both governments would benefit by addressing the duplication of patrol and administrative services, he said.

The change also would address "imaginary borders," he said.

Metzner said it does not make sense to him that Hagerstown City Police respond to calls on one side of a street while the Sheriff's Department responds to calls on the other side.

"We would get much more lean and more efficient services," he said.

"I would definitely be interested in hearing more about it," Hendershot said Wednesday. "Maybe we can streamline some things."

Sheriff Charles Mades said he does not think the change would save money or improve law enforcement. He said he does not think there is a duplication of services.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he would want to hear more about the idea before commenting.

But Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell said Wednesday he supports the city and county governments looking into the idea. In a 1999 written report, Wivell suggested the two governments consider merging various law enforcement functions, including dispatch and patrol.

Metzner said the idea is timely because large residential developments are planned for areas just outside the city limits.

There currently is talk of providing a central booking facility to serve both law enforcement agencies.

Local police agencies have supported a central booking facility, saying it would speed up the arrest process.

Such a center would rely on correctional officers to process arrests, allowing law enforcement officers to get back on the streets faster, police officials have said.

Both concepts - a metropolitan police force and a central booking facility - have the goal of streamlining services, Metzner said.

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