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Washington County sheriff testifies in support of bill that would allow him to appoint special deputies

Douglas W. Mullendore and chiefs of police from four municipalities say legislation would apply only in specific situations

February 26, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Washington County Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore and the chiefs of police from four Washington County municipalities testified Tuesday at a senate committee hearing in support of a bill that, if passed, would let a sheriff appoint municipal law enforcement officers as special sheriff’s deputies.

Mullendore said municipal boundaries in the county are fragmented and it is not possible for a municipal law enforcement officer to know what areas are exactly in their jurisdiction.

Cases have been jeopardized in court because “the wrong unit” responded outside their municipal borders, said Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who has introduced the bill in the Senate. The bill has been cross-filed in the House of Delegates by the Washington County delegation.

Mullendore, who spoke at the hearing, gave the example of Dual Highway, where an officer could go “in and out” of Hagerstown 10 different times on a stretch of the road because of the way the city’s boundaries are drawn.

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“We have roads within the county where we will have two houses that are in the city, one house that is in the county, four houses in the city, three more that are in the county and it goes on like that,” Mullendore said.

Hagerstown Police Chief Mark Holtzman, Smithsburg Police Chief George Knight, Boonsboro Police Chief Chuck Stanford and Hancock Police Chief Timothy Buskirk were also present at the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing.

The bill “is not a carte blanche where they [municipal law enforcement officers] would have complete jurisdiction outside of their city limits,” Mullendore said at the hearing.

The specific instances where they would have rights as special sheriff’s deputies, as explained in an analysis by the state’s Department of Legislative Services, include:

  • A traffic situation threatening human life
  • An emergency involving possibility of loss of life, injury or property damage.
  • A call where a municipal law enforcement officer was dispatched by a 9-1-1 center to an area outside their jurisdiction because the communication center thought it was in their jurisdiction.

Holtzman said at the hearing that the bill, if it becomes law, would make roads in the county safer.

He said officers, especially in the Dual Highway area, sometimes hesitate to make traffic stops because they don’t want to lose their cases.

“It is frustrating to go to court, thinking you have a rock solid case only to watch the defense attorney walk in with a whole bunch of maps … and say, ‘Can you point out exactly where the traffic stop took place?’ … and you are done,” Holtzman said at the hearing.

The situation also applies to Hancock, Buskirk said. “One minute we are in Washington County, next minute we are in the City of Hancock,” he said.

Stanford said areas in the Boonsboro, such as Maple Avenue, also have the same problem.

One side of the street was in Boonsboro, the other side was under the jurisdiction of the county, Stanford said.

“Imagine yourself waiting for a deputy 25 minutes away, when there is a municipal officer in Smithsburg that’s a quarter mile away who doesn’t have anything to do or isn’t doing anything at the time and he cannot respond to ... a situation. It is a quality of service issue for our county,” Knight said.

Another type of case where the bill could make a difference was domestic violence incidents, Stanford said.

“If it’s a domestic violence issue, we can be there and secure the scene,” he said.

The cross-filed version of the bill is scheduled be heard by a House Committee.

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