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2 towns explore options for more police coverage


Union Bridge and New Windsor officials are considering additional police coverage, despite their opinion that each town's needs are being served adequately by the state police Resident Trooper Program.

Officials in each town have been investigating the options because residents have complained about the enforcement provided by the current arrangement -- one trooper for whom the towns share expenses and who patrols each town for four hours five days a week.

"Knock on wood, Union Bridge's crime is nothing compared to some other areas. You get one incident and people think the world is coming to an end," Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr. said of his town. "These people want someone here when they see a speeding car, someone they can call to come right away."

New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo agreed.

"Whenever a resident calls to complain about noise or the kids, they always mention increased police protection as a possible solution," Mr. Gullo said. "Here's a small-town community where your councilman is next door. You just go over there and knock and say, 'Why isn't our trooper out there stopping that?' "

Both mayors said they intend to study the feasibility of increasing police protection from part time to full time, hiring a town police officer or creating a town police force.

Mr. Jones said he and Councilman Bret Grossnickle spoke to officials from towns that have their own police forces and collected information from state police.

Union Bridge Councilwoman Bonnie M. Hyde told the council during the November meeting that residents have told her they support increasing police protection in town.

Mr. Gullo and Councilman Ronnie Blacksten met last month with 1st Sgt. Steve Reynolds, who coordinates the Resident Trooper Program for the state police, to discuss the town's policing options.

Under the current agreement, $72,000 covers the salary, insurance, benefits and equipment for Trooper Phil Henry, the officer who splits his daily shift between the two towns.

Each town contributes about $27,000 toward the program, and the county subsidizes the remaining $18,000 because the troopers patrol county-owned land between the two towns, Sergeant Reynolds said.

If each town hires a trooper, each would have to take on the additional cost, possibly without the county subsidies.

"We have to ask ourselves that even if the county continues to pay the 25 percent of the expenses, can we afford about $56,000 for double what we have now," Mr. Gullo said. "We're not even going to get full [24-hour] coverage."

Another option is for each town to hire another kind of protection, such as hiring a full-time officer outside of the Resident Trooper program, a retired police officer, or a recent police academy graduate.

But Sergeant Reynolds said that venture also could be $l expensive for the towns.

"It would depend on the particular officer they hired," he said. "But if they hired another policeman, you'd have to figure they're going to pay at least twice what [each town is] paying now."

Each town could start its own police force -- if each can come up with $350,000 for expenses for the five officers they would need for 24-hour coverage.

"Our opinions are governed by our resources, of which we have none," Mr. Grossnickle said. "Basically, we don't have the money for more police protection."

Both mayors agreed that more police overage would inevitably mean higher taxes for town residents.

"We could probably scrimp by with $50,000 to hire [a police officer], and I mean scrimp by," Mayor Jones said. "But, say we use the $26,000 or so we pay for the resident trooper, that's still $24,000 we'll have to raise. You can't tax people like that."

Mr. Jones said last year's 4-cent increase in the property tax rate per $100 of valuation generated only about $2,700 in revenue. Mr. Grossnickle said he believes the current 72-cent tax rate would have to increase by at least 10 cents to cover increased police expenses.

"I'm not willing to authorize an expenditure unless people are willing to pay for it," Mayor Gullo said.

He said the town has $350,000 in savings which, in theory, could be used, but would be exhausted within the police force's first operating year.

"We have this surplus, but a police force will require constant maintenance," Mr. Gullo said. "I want people to say, 'I want to pay more to get more.' "

Few officials feel that additional protection will solve the two towns' problems -- mainly petty pranks, vandalism and loitering.

Although New Windsor's Community Watch Program has deterred some of the troublemakers, residents continue to request more police protection.

"I think we have made some sort of difference out there, with the Community Watch and things, " said Mr. Blacksten, a member of the watch team and head of the town's police committee. "But there are some people you are never going to satisfy," he said.

"The only way to stop the crimes we have is for people to get involved," said Mr. Grossnickle. "That might sound a little like being a vigilante, but I think it would work.

"I thought about trying to start a Community Watch, but I thought that these are retired people. They don't want to do this. But for the penny-ante crimes we have, I think that's the best solution."

Mr. Gullo agreed.

"My opinion . . . is that a full-time police officer will not solve our problems," he said. "I've said this before: You can't get a hired gun to come in here while everyone else just rests on their laurels and does nothing."

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