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Bel Air commissioners to vote on municipal SWAT team agreement

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The Bel Air town commissioners are scheduled to vote during their Sept. 16 town meeting on an Inter-Agency Police Services Agreement, designed to cement Bel Air Police officers' participation in a municipal SWAT team.

The team would be have officers from the Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace departments trained in SWAT tactics.

Aberdeen Police Chief Henry Trabert introduced the concept to that city's mayor and council in July and said he had invited Bel Air and Havre de Grace officers to take part in the multi-jurisdictional team.

Aberdeen has a SWAT team, and the municipal unit's members would respond to incidents in Harford County's three municipalities.

Bel Air Police Chief Leo Matrangola said during a commissioners' work session Tuesday that the commissioners would be asked to approve the agreement, and Town Administrator Chris Schlehr to sign it "with the understanding that this is between each one of the municipalities and doesn't necessarily include the county."

"We'll have a set of rules and regulations that applies to when we do call-outs, when we don't and how we make decisions when that multiple-agency SWAT team is used," Matrangola continued.

The Bel Air chief said the selection process for SWAT officers is "ongoing," and five Bel Air officers have already passed physical fitness and firearms tests. They must still go through an interview process.

Matrangola said formal training is scheduled for October and officers will be "trained together under the direction of the police chiefs."

Matrangola said, in response to a question from Commissioner Robert Preston, that police officials had worked with representatives of the Local Government Insurance Trust, which provides insurance coverage to all of Harford County's municipalities and local governments throughout Maryland, to ensure the municipal SWAT team would be covered.

The chief explained that Bel Air officers already respond to incidents outside of the town limits on a regular basis to support other agencies; officers have also been assigned to the county's drug task force and hostage negotiation team.

"We need people that are trained to protect lives and protect hostages," who are "able to respond quickly to the situation and not solely depend on one agency to help," Matrangola said.

Schlehr asked what the cost would be and Matrangola estimated it would be about $5,000 per officer to purchase new equipment such as heavy protective vests, helmets, uniforms and radios. He said police officials would seek partial reimbursement from the federal government for the vests, the most expensive items.

Mayor Edward Hopkins, who also serves as a public information officer with the Harford County Sheriff's Office, expressed concerns about the availability of "specialized" equipment such as ballistic shields, armored vehicles and long- and short-range weapons.

Matrangola said Aberdeen Police have much of the special equipment needed, and Bel Air Police has about 10 rifles.

Hopkins said he was also concerned about "consistency in weapons training," since each department uses different weapons.

He said he wants to make sure the team is protected from officer safety and insurance standpoints.

"To me there's just a lot of moving parts that still have to be worked out, that the resolution doesn't address, but in theory I support the resolution," Hopkins said.

Matrangola said those details would be worked out through training, and police officials are developing "policies and procedures."

Contracts

The commissioners approved purchases of three new police cars during their Aug. 12 meeting, and they are scheduled to vote Sept. 16 on a contract to purchase equipment for those cars, including prisoner cages, lights and sirens.

Matrangola said police officials would spent $17,594.99 on the equipment.

The commissioners will also vote on spending $22,746 to build a metal pavilion in Plumtree Park. Planning Director Kevin Small told the commissioners Tuesday that workers had started building a pathway in Plumtree, a project that is expected to last for two to three weeks.

Finally, the commissioners are scheduled to vote on obtaining about $155,000 in financing to cover the purchase of six vehicles for the police and public works departments.

Finance Director Lisa Moody said the debt would be paid back over seven years, with interest rates ranging from 2.74 percent to 3.647 percent.

She said the life of the vehicles is expected to be about seven years.

"You want your debt service to match that life," Moody explained.

Business loan increased

The commissioners approved a $20,000 revolving loan in April to AKB Inc., which owns Kroh's Cleaners on Pennsylvania Avenue, to support the purchase of a replacement boiler.

The commissioners voted Tuesday 4-0 to increase the loan amount to $25,000, to cover the full cost of the boiler. Commissioner David Carey was absent.

"They need another $5,000, so I'd like you to authorize me to go to $25,000 with them," Schlehr said.

Town officials have been working closely with the Kroh's owners.

"We've been looking at different boilers and the cheapest one is $25,000, so it made sense to move forward and give them the [full] amount," Trish Heidenreich, economic development director, said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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