Art Callaham: We can cooperate in the name of public safety

August 18, 2013|By ART CALLAHAM

I was sure the “speed camera” issue was going to get the usual number of “pooh hoohs” from the usual suspects who are against anything and everything. A good friend of mine told me that “if you have six loud people against anything here in Washington County, you have a majority.”

It took me a moment to process that truism; but, I only had to remember the new medical facility issue, some truck stop proposals, and almost anything dealing with land use to see the truth in my friend’s statement. Too often the vocal minority becomes the majority opinion, as many in the true majority duck for cover or plead ambivalence about issues.

As a locality we just seem to want to dwell on the negative and not take a chance with the positive aspects of most projects, proposals, upgrades or progressive initiatives. Not in my back yard seems to pervade most statements when we talk about vision or progress.

A recent “Mail Caller” asked if the speed cameras would be working during the summer recess; I wonder if the caller was planning to obey the posted speed limit during the summer or was contemplating speeding again through school zones? From a child safety point of view, a caller could have suggested that children are present in those speed camera zones at many times outside of the regular school hours and the dates when school is in session. I believe many of us long for that day.

Enough of the negative; the reality, based upon my informal survey of comments about speed cameras suggests that a true majority of local residents in Hancock, Smithsburg and Hagerstown (where speed cameras are currently deployed) welcome the speed cameras as a viable means of promoting safety in school zones.

And wasn’t it a nice gesture when the towns of Hancock and Smithsburg donated money to Children’s Village from revenues received by those towns from speed camera fines. This is a wonderful example of leveraging funds from one safety program to help fund another program.

Perhaps the county will consider deploying speed cameras in those areas not incorporated, yet have school zones. Perhaps our board of education will consider a strong statement of support for countywide deployment of speed cameras. Perhaps all of the municipalities in coordination or collaboration with the county could deploy a speed camera network that would make our schools and daycare centers even safer.

Now there’s a novel idea, coordination and collaboration among and between municipalities and the county. Locally, we did it once with the collaborative and coordinated efforts that helped to create the centralized 911 call center. That effort certainly had a public safety overtone.

I don’t have the details, but I would guess that effort enhanced response times and the overall public safety of our citizens. I’ll even be so bold as to suggest it might have saved some tax dollars.

Come to think of it, how about the central booking project? That effort enhanced public safety and consolidated and collocated supporting functions. Aside from putting police back on the street quickly, and streamlining the “booking” procedure, central booking did save tax dollars. By the way, that project’s success required coordination between the municipalities, the county and the state.

So, maybe there is a theme here; maybe we really have a track record of cooperation and collaboration between our municipalities, the county and the state in the name of public safety. What else is there?

How about consolidated police protection, or fire protection? Some counties have countywide policing and some have countywide fire departments. We spend a lot of money on “economic” studies; how about a consolidation of public safety services study?

Seems like there might be more areas where we, as a community, could consolidate services, streamline administration and save some tax dollars. We don’t seem to argue among ourselves when these efforts are in the name of public safety.

But wait, aren’t there areas outside of public safety where consolidation, coordination, collocation, streamlining and collaboration among local and state governments could occur? You know, simple things like plain old telephone service (we called it “pots” when I was working with the Army).

I’ll bet there are over 2,500 government “land line” phones in this county, and I’ll also bet there are five or more separate contracts with service providers. That doesn’t count the cell phones and other separate communications contracts. Wonder what savings there would be with a single contract for those services? Oh well, one can dream.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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