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Police officers top city's salary overtime list

January 16, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Hours after receiving a phone call from one of his reliable informants, Washington County Narcotics Task Force Agent Frank W. Toston and members of the county tactical team stood outside a West Antietam Street home in the dark.

About 10:20 p.m. on Nov. 9, Toston had court papers that said police had reason to believe someone was dealing cocaine inside the house and therefore had a right to enter the house, he and his supervisor recalled in a December interview.

Toston, in his mid 40s, knocked on the door and announced police were going to search the house.

A man inside the house looked out a front window, and then ran. The door did not immediately give way, but some time after 10 seconds - according to Toston's recent court testimony - the officers broke open the door and found cocaine or marijuana in nearly every room of the two-story house.

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Everyone who was in the house, except for two toddlers, was arrested. By night's end, four adults would face multiple drug charges, and Toston's eight-hour day had become a 13-hour day.

Toston is known by some of his colleagues as "The Machine." He is not married and does not have any children.

Having spent 13 years as a Hagerstown City Police officer on the task force and 10 years previously in uniform patrol, Toston has gained a reputation as a tireless worker who quickly can assemble multiple successful narcotics cases, and also is a dependable hand on more complex state and federal drug cases.

According to information provided by the City of Hagerstown, the amount of overtime work Toston does shows. He was the top overtime earner in city government in both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 fiscal years.

In the fiscal year ending last June, Toston's base pay was $41,449. With $27,124 in overtime, his total pay rose to $68,573. At a time-and-a-half overtime rate, that means for every regular eight-hour shift Toston worked, he worked about 3.5 hours of overtime.

Toston was not photographed for this story at the request of his supervisors. Hagerstown Police Capt. Charles Summers said Toston's confidentiality is necessary for undercover work, including surveillance.

But like many in his age group and position, Toston's short-cropped hair is thin on top. His presence, unlike television interpretations of drug enforcement officers, is not cold or overpowering.

Pay is an embarrassing subject to talk about, Toston said in an interview in early December. He would much rather talk about a case he's worked on. But focusing too much on his own work is uncomfortable, too, he said, because every case needs upwards of a dozen people to process, and often more.

For instance, the Nov. 9 case: Once Toston received the phone call tipping police off to possible cocaine dealing, agents had to arrange a drug buy. They sent the informant into the house with marked bills. The informant emerged from the house minus the money, and plus some crack.

The arranged deal was about 7 p.m. Police then had to watch the house while Toston and others put together the search warrant papers and had a state's attorney look it over before getting a judge's signature.

Entering the house were Toston, other NTF agents and a half-dozen members of the county's tactical team. Once the house was under control, more city patrol officers helped process the suspects.

The Nov. 9 case is just one of dozens Toston helped orchestrate last year, and hundreds over his career. A logbook of court dates kept in the task force office shows Toston went to court more than 300 times in 2004, most of which were clocked as overtime.

For Toston, however, the November case is memorable because of the two children. Both were found in rooms that held drugs.

"That's the thing. We all see it, and the sad part is seeing the conditions the children are subjected to. ... There isn't a week that goes past that we don't see that in one form or another," Toston said.

Toston speaks softly and easily. On the stand in Washington County District Court a day after his interview, he uses the same measured tones to explain to a judge what he witnessed during the early November search warrant execution.

During a court recess, Toston said one of his hobbies is fishing.

He grew up near Clear Spring, he said, fishing the fresh waters of the Potomac River. Eventually, he tried the bay waters, and after some time began saltwater fishing.

In a recent trip with some friends, he spent 25 minutes fighting a 50-pound fish in choppy waters off the coast of one of the Florida Keys. At the same time, he was fighting to keep a submarine sandwich down that he had just eaten.

Toston hauled the fish in, and as soon as the photo of him with his fish had been snapped, he was at the bow, losing his sandwich. He tells the story with a wide smile.

In the interview the previous day, Toston also described with a smile one of the few instances in which there's hard evidence he made a friend outside the police ranks in his line of work.

"Certainly, we don't make friends every day," Toston said.

He showed a thank-you card he received from one drug user who became an informant, and has now weaned herself off drugs and become a mother.

The woman wrote in part, "You gave me my second chance and became the father I never had."

"This, to me, is what it's all about," Toston said. "It's not all about putting people in jail."

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