You know the feeling. A hot-shot car roars past, nearly crowding your vehicle off the road. You fume, helplessly, wishing there were a simple way to report the driver.

Now, for the 180,000 residents and workers of Fort Meade, there is.

Dialing 677-RUMR puts a caller in touch with an answering machineat the provost marshal's office -- which supervises the military police on post. Among other things, the rumor hot line takes anonymous reports of errant drivers, including military police, on the base.

Claudette Booker, the hot line coordinator, runs a license check to find out who owns the vehicle and issues a reprimanding letter. If thedriver happens to be a teen-ager, the parents are notified.

The hot line is proving the answer to a citizen's prayers.

"At least residents feel they can have something to say about what's happening onour post," Booker says. "In one driving incident, we identified the father of a young man who was driving the car, andwhen he heard what had happened, the father said immediately, 'My son's grounded.' "

Equally important, the hot line quells rumors and provides answers toall sorts of questions.

"People can call in any kind of question,law enforcement or otherwise," Booker says. "I research the responseand call back within 24 hours."

Calls range from worried questions about rumors of civilian personnel layoffs to nervous calls about why so many helicopters are buzzing around a neighborhood.

"We quell false rumors that go along. Half-truths and half-stories can spreadquickly, and nobody knows where to go for an answer," Booker explains.

For example, inmates occasionally abscond from Oak Hill and Cedar Knoll, Washington, youth detention facilities

near the post, Booker says. When that happens, helicopters and MP vehicles turn out inabundance.

People in housing areas may see the helicopters and assume the military police are after an escapee when that isn't necessarily the case, she says.

"With the hot line, people can call and find out exactly what's happened and tell their neighbors. It calms them to know what's going on."

Maj. John Fowler, who also works in the provost's office, calls the hot line unique.

"In civilian law enforcement, it's difficult for people to feel they're going to get a good answer from the front office. Sometimes they are seemingly minorissues but often very important to the people calling. And they can call 24 hours a day," Fowler says.

Queries range from casual to serious.

One day, a jogger who had been stopped for running along Mapes Road called to find out if jogging along that road really was against post regulations. It was.

Other calls have come from people reporting child neglect or abuse. "They're concerned, but they want toremain anonymous," Booker says. "They can give us a location, and wedirect the information to the proper sources. We're very careful about protecting privacy."

The result is that the hot line -- in existence for about a year and a half -- has created additional eyes and ears for the provost marshal's office, Fowler says.

"It seems to me civilian police would all do well to run such a hot line," he adds.

The number of calls weekly has varied since the hot line has beenin existence, from just a few to several dozen.

Though the officehas advertised the hot line only through the post newspaper, sometimes people unrelated to Fort Meade call to inquire about something they've seen or heard, Booker says.

"It's handy for the civilian community too. They hear about things but don't know where to go to get an answer. But the hot line is there for them too."

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