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Chief works to polish image of Smithsburg's police force

August 06, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

SMITHSBURG - Granted it takes more than a new cruiser to give a small town police force a new image, but Smithsburg Police Chief Mike Potter sees it as a visible step in that direction.

"This is the first new cruiser here in a long time," Potter said, proudly showing off the 2004 Dodge Intrepid parked in front of the Smithsburg Town Hall/Police Department office recently.

The white car was bought from a dealer in Chicago who specializes in police vehicles. It was delivered with a state-of-the-art light bar and a back seat cage already installed, all at a cost of under $20,000.

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"Accent Imaging on Maugans Avenue painted the green stripe and gold lettering. We're very pleased with how it turned out," Potter said. "Those colors are the same as on our uniforms."

Potter said he called around to other chiefs who had ordered similar front-wheel drive vehicles from the Chicago dealer and all were pleased with the performance and the room inside the vehicle.

"Officer Mike Neuland will get the new cruiser," Potter said. "He's tall."

Potter and the town's newest officer, J.R. Bowers, will have access to the two black cruisers that will be repainted to match the new car, at just the cost of the paint. Both of those cars recently were reconditioned.

Hired as chief in January 2002, Potter has been working all along to bring the police department up to his standards. With the hiring of Bowers and his recent graduation from the Western Maryland Police Academy, Potter is now able to provide police coverage seven days a week at varying hours.

"Before, we were only on duty parts of five days a week," Potter said. "We have also hired a full-time secretary."

Officers are spending more time out and about in the community. They are meeting with people and speaking to groups whenever they can.

"This gives us high visibility and the new cruiser promotes that more professional look," Potter said.

Officers make appearances at all sporting events, carnivals, the Steam and Craft show, Pride Days and assist in directing traffic after school,

While writing tickets is a part of policing, Potter said his department is using every resource available on even minor crimes. On more serious matters, the Smithsburg Police work closely with other police agencies, especially the Washington County Sheriff's Department, he said.

"I would estimate that 85 percent of the arrests in this town are juveniles," Potter said, pointing to that as an indication of the biggest problem facing the town.

"Our newest officer, J.R. Bowers, is closest in age to the age group we are dealing with and that helps," Potter said.

The town is growing and becoming more diverse every day, Potter said. He and his officers are trying to work with the youth to promote better rapport.

As chief of a police force in a town with a population of slightly more than 2,300, Potter said three officers can make a difference. And he is pleased that the Smithsburg mayor and Town Council have been supportive of his efforts.

"We've come a long way with good officers who know the area," Potter said. "It goes to show that you can still be professional in a small town."

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