The Harford County Council agreed last night to let voters decide in 1994 whether they want a county police department to replace the sheriff's office as the chief local law enforcement agency.
In a unanimous vote, the seven-member council passed a bill that would, with voters' consent, create a Department of Police through an amendment to the county charter. By law, any proposed charter amendment must be put to referendum in the next general election, in this case November 1994.
At the same time, the council failed to act on a similar bill that would have created a county Department of Corrections through a second charter amendment. The Corrections Department would have taken over operation of the county jail from the sheriff and put it in the hands of an appointed warden.
Both bills had been crafted by council members as alternatives to County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's sweeping proposal to strip the sheriff's office of all law enforcement and jail authority. Her proposal, which would have taken effect within 60 days of passage, called for a chief of police and a warden, both appointed by the county executive, to run the departments.
The charter amendment on next year's ballot calls for a police chief appointed by the executive and approved by the council, as well as procedures for dismissal. The idea of replacing a sheriff elected by the citizens with a chief appointed by politicians was a highly disputed issue among both council members and citizens who attended a public hearing on the proposal last month.