Police Pact: What Took So Long?


The recent extraordinary wave of bank and supermarket holdups in the metropolitan area has finally made Baltimore City Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods see the light. "The criminal does not see boundaries, so why do the police have to?"

That's a good question -- and Mr. Woods ought to know the answer.

For more than a decade, Mr. Woods and his predecessors have cold-shouldered repeated efforts by the Baltimore County police department to negotiate a mutual-aid agreement with the city to complement those the county has long had with local law enforcement agencies in Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard counties. Such agreements came out of a realization that increasing instances of cross-over crime, from drugs to car thefts, required flexibility in police response. Since criminals had no trouble ignoring political boundary lines, law enforcement agencies had to erase those artificial obstacles to effective police work.

In December of 1989, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke declared that a city-county police agreement was "clearly needed." Mr. Woods, his newly appointed commissioner, did nothing. It took more than 80 recent holdups of fast-food restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and banks to make the city police department realize the need for full-fledged regional cooperation.

"I've always been puzzled by the lack of an agreement," said Baltimore County Police Chief Cornelius Behan diplomatically when Mayor Schmoke and County Executive Roger Hayden revealed officers in both jurisdictions would be able to cross boundary lines and retain police powers.

Details of the cooperative agreement must still be worked out. Now that they have committed themselves to cooperation, we urged Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Hayden to make sure that a city-county police pact is completed in short order. The foot-dragging has already cost this region too much.

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