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County's growth adds to deputies' workload

September 10, 2005|By TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Once upon a time, according to Lt. Randy Wilkinson, 75 percent to 80 percent of the calls answered by Washington County Sheriff's deputies came from locations near Hagerstown.

Now, not only are the number of calls to the sheriff's department rising, they're "spreading out," Wilkinson said.

"At least once a week, I get a call from someone out in the county who wants to know, 'Why did it take a police officer 25 to 35 minutes to get here?'" said Wilkinson, patrol commander for the sheriff's department.

The patrol division responded to 48,520 calls in 2004, nearly 4,000 more than the year before - and an increase of more than 12,000 from the number of calls received in 2000.

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With less than 100 sworn officers to answer them, Sheriff Charles Mades said there's never any "down" time in his department.

"As the population is growing, the dynamics are changing," Mades said. "People moving into Washington County are expecting services we might not normally provide."

As an example, Wilkinson said, the number of calls about nuisance activities - such as youths riding four-wheelers and scooters through streets that didn't even exist in the county a few years ago - has kept deputies busier than before.




New shoplifting options


It's not just residential growth driving the rise in activity. The development of new shopping options in the county - such as Prime Outlets Hagerstown and The Centre at Hagerstown - has provided new options for shoplifters, Mades said.

When the new wing at Valley Mall was completed in 1999, the department saw a jump in the number of calls from mall businesses, he said, and calls have risen every year since, according to department figures. Last year, calls to the county's major shopping centers accounted for nearly 2,000 of the sheriff's department's responses.

The location of Interstates 70 and 81 and increased traffic on those thoroughfares contribute to the overall crime statistics, Mades said.

"We get a lot of transient crime," he said. "A lot of our arrests are coming from West Virginia and Pennsylvania."

The judicial division also has seen an increase in its activity, partly because of growing demands from the court system and partly because of an order from the Maryland Judiciary to take over civil process service for District Court.

Last year, the judicial division served 20,286 summonses for Circuit Court, 788 civil summonses for District Court and 232 criminal summonses.




Detention center


All of that activity has consequences for the department's third division, the Washington County Detention Center.

"As law enforcement activities increase, the detention center population increases," Warden Van Evans said.

It's not just sheriff's department arrests that add to the population - any detainees from Maryland State Police or municipal departments in the county end up at the jail.

"We get everyone," Evans said.

The detention center is running near capacity. With no room for expansion, "that doesn't account for what happens tomorrow or down the road," Evans said.

The dynamics of the detention center population are changing as well, Evans said.

"It's more violent than it ever was," Evans said. "We have difficulty finding trusties," inmates who can be trusted with kitchen and other duties.

The detention center houses only those awaiting trial or serving sentences of 18 months or less. But last year, the detention center population included 20 inmates charged with murder, 29 charged with child abuse, 62 charged with various sex offenses and 921 held on drug charges. It also housed 14 admitted members of the notorious Crips gang, five members of the Bloods, three skinheads and seven people claiming membership in other gangs, according to detention center figures.

The high numbers and violent nature of some inmates can make the detention center a tense place for the staff to work, Evans said.

"But they do a very good job - I have a very good staff," he said.

So what does all of this cost?

Last year, the Sheriff's Department's combined budget was $13.9 million. The Washington County Commissioners approved $15.6 million for fiscal year 2006, which began July 1.

"Our first responsibility is safety to the citizens who live here," Mades said. "It's still a safe place, but we have to be prepared."

The challenge is having adequate personnel and resources to do the job, department officials said.

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