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Can police trim overtime? With central booking, yes

August 19, 2003

Sometimes the reward for doing a good job is more work, as the Hagerstown Police Department found out last week. After cutting police overtime from the previous fiscal year for the first time in five years, HPD is being asked to cut another $44,500 in overtime in fiscal 2004.

Unless crime takes a holiday, is there any way that can be done? Maybe not in 2004, but future costs could be reduced - and law enforcement improved - if Hagerstown and Washington County work together to build a central booking facility.

Such a center was cut from the county's capital improvement budget in February, but in June the County Commissioners agreed to pay for some design services and endorse an application for state money.

The facility, which might cost $2 million to build, would require additional personnel to run, but would cut police overtime and return officers to the street more quickly by shifting work from the arresting officers to detention center personnel.

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At present, city officers who make an arrest must take suspects to the police station, complete initial paperwork, fingerprint them and place them in a holding cell, pending confirmation of their identities through the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Then the officer takes the suspect to the court commissioners' office, where bond is set in a process that may take an hour. Then the officer transports the suspect to the detention center.

With a central booking facility, after the preliminary paperwork is completed, the suspect would be taken to the detention center, where personnel would use a new computer system (instead of faxes) to transfer fingerprints to the FBI. And instead of waiting for a court commissioner to arrive to set bond, the officer could then return to duty.

Hagerstown police officials estimate that while central booking's main benefit is getting officers back on the street more quickly, the new system could save the city 1,000 hours of overtime each year.

In June, county officials said it could be 2008 before work begins on such a facility. That's not acceptable. Both city and county need to save that overtime and put officers back on patrol protecting citizens. There are many good reasons to move this project forward and few in favor of delaying it.

So instead of studying it again, let city and county officials agree on this: The central booking project should move forward with all possible speed.

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