Despite smaller budget, Bel Air police officers to get raises

The Bel Air Police Department will see a slight cut in funding during fiscal year 2015, but eligible employees will get merit raises and the department will purchase new technology and more new police cars, Chief Leo Matrangola said.

In addition to raises, the technology expenditures will be used for training and accident prevention, the latter which has shown measurable progress in the past five years.

The police department budget for FY 2015 is $3.3 million, a reduction of $11,681 from the current budget.

The department, which has 31 sworn officers, nine dispatchers, two cadets, one crossing guard, four administrators and auxiliary and explorer posts, has an average response time of one minute and 30 seconds, Matrangola said during a town commissioners work session on April 29.

"I believe I have the best group of officers I've had in a long time," Matrangola told members of the Board of Town Commissioners. "There's zero tolerance."

According to Matrangola, $587,764 has been budgeted for salaries of non-sworn employees, an increase of $1,278 from FY 2014, to fund the merit step increase. The budget allocates $1,979,510 for the 31 sworn officers salaries, an $8,941 increase from FY 2014.

"We're able to get the step increase because of retirements," Matrangola said. "When an older officer retires, you can hire a younger one at $20,000 less."

Matrangola said Monday his officers have not received step increases in the last five years. He said a merit step is about a $2,300 increase in the average officer's annual salary.

To comply with the requirement by the Maryland State Police Training Commission, the department will be purchasing 634 new scenarios for its Firearm Simulator.

The simulator, which was purchased in 2010, came with 120 firearm training scenarios to ensure officers are fast, keen to movement and possess requisite shooting skills.

Matrangola said the department's officers have completed the 120 scenarios, which included school scenes, domestic incidents, robberies and traffic incidents.

The department budgeted $5,500 for the new scenarios for FY 2015.

The department has allocated $5,600 for traffic enforcement, including $1,500 for a new LIDAR radar device, Matrangola said.

According to Matrangola, accidents in town have decreased from 1,009 in 2008 to 881 in 2013. There were 954 accidents in 2009, 984 in 2010, 963 in 2011 and 895 in 2012.

Matrangola attributed the nearly 13 percent decline over five years to a prevention patrol task force that concentrates on high accident areas.

Every six months, the chief explained, the department maps accidents by cause and location to figure out where the majority of the accidents are happening, areas he calls the hot zones.

"Then we meet with the patrol officers and show them the maps and then we will have them concentrate on those areas and patrol those intersections," Matrangola said.

In the last six months, patrol officers have been concentrating on Churchville Road and Main Street, Main Street and Bond Street, Bond Street and Route 22, Route 22 and Fulford Avenue and Route 24 and Route 1, Matrangola said.

The police department uses radar and high visibility patrols in high accident areas, which Matrangola said has helped to decrease the number of accidents in town.

Bel Air is the only jurisdiction in Harford County that has a red light camera program.

In 2013, the Bel Air Police Department issued 7,000 red light camera tickets, up from 5,700 issued in 2012. Matrangola said he anticipates issuing about 5,000 red light ticket citations in FY 2015.

In an average year, Matrangola said, the town brings in about $300,000 from red light tickets. He said the town usually breaks even because it spends $170,000 to use the contracted ticketing system and other funds to pay salaried employees to review tapes, issue citations and attend traffic court hearings.

Matrangola said any leftover money is put back into traffic enforcement.

The department is also purchasing three new electronic ticketing devices at $1,200 each; the department already has 11 devices.

The police department will be purchasing three new cars in FY 2015: two new 2015 Ford sedans at $23,450 per vehicle and a 2015 Ford utility truck at $28,452, Matrangola said.

Matrangola said the three new vehicles will replace three older vehicles. He said the new additions will put the department at nine black cars and 22 white patrol cars.

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