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Council delays move to strip Sheriff's Office


Harford Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's bid to wrest contro of the county jail and law enforcement from the Sheriff's Office probably won't be considered by county lawmakers before late summer.

Council President Jeffrey Wilson won an informal agreement from fellow members Tuesday to put off considering any legislation on public safety until Aug. 10.

Mr. Wilson said the council needs time to meet informally with the executive, the sheriff and the state's attorney and consider the continuing investigations into public safety.

The council meets only once in July and once in August.

Earlier this month, Mrs. Rehrmann appointed a committee to study the feasibility of creating a countywide police department that would take over law enforcement activities and correctional facilities and reduce the role of the sheriff to courthouse security and civil matters.

The committee is expected to conclude its findings by the first week in June. George Harrison, administration spokesman, said county lawyers have started drafting legislation, but the findings of the work group, as well as results of open meetings this month on public safety, will be considered before any legislation is submitted to the council.

"There is no specific timetable for legislation, although we expect to have some definite direction on how to proceed with it by the first week of June," Mr. Harrison said.

He added that it is possible that a bill on the Detention Center alone would be drafted before more far-reaching legislation that could, in effect, create a countywide police department.

The Detention Center has been under fire since the suspicious death of an inmate there more than a year ago and recent allegations of sexual misconduct by jail guards.

In recent weeks, Mrs. Rehrmann has asked the state attorney general to investigate the jail, which has also been probed by the county state's attorney's office and the FBI. Neither agency has released results.

Sheriff Robert E. Comes has countered with a call for the state to broaden its investigation to include the county executive, the FBI, the state medical examiner and the state's attorney.

"It's difficult to gauge what's going on here," said Councilwoman Theresa Pierno, D-District C, who agreed that reacting with "emergency legislation" may not be wise.

"We are right in the middle of all this because we will be responsible for the legislation coming forward. I don't want to see this turn into a political battle. This has gone on now for a year. There are mistakes all the way up the line. We have to stop pointing fingers and try to resolve the issues."

Barry Glassman, R-District D, urged the council to meet with all the officials involved in public safety "at the same table."

"I've come out of each meeting with a different perspective," he said of his efforts to discuss the Detention Center. "I would like to hear them all together to get at the truth. This issue is larger than one piece of legislation, and there are so many things outstanding at this time.

"I don't think we need to go into a crisis-management stage. Why push it in the next 30 days?" he asked.

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