State police have taken administrative action against a duty officer who failed to respond to a New Windsor resident's complaint last week about vandalism in the town.
"The duty sergeant should have responded to the call," said 1st Sgt. Thomas Long, public information officer at the Westminster barracks. "We took appropriate administrative action. He was counseled, and a notation went into his job observation file."
The sergeant declined to identify the duty officer.
Sergeant Long said he also discussed the incident with the barracks staff and reiterated the policy of responding to all calls.
"I brought the matter up at our staff meeting Thursday," he said. "Residents should not think they are going to make a phone call to the barracks and not get a trooper."
The vandals spray-painted 16 vehicles, several homes and fire department and street signs; tore down light fixtures in front of Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr.'s office; and damaged the town ball fields. The total damage was estimated at several thousand dollars.
Tony Ferace, owner of New Windsor Automotive Specialties, told The Sun last week that five vehicles he was customizing on his lot were damaged. To repaint and repair them will cost about $3,000, he said.
A resident who requested anonymity because she fears reprisals said she called state police at the Westminster barracks to report the vandalism.
Sergeant Long confirmed that the duty officer at the barracks was notified about a "group of kids out of control."
Sergeant Long said the duty officer told the caller that, on the basis of only one complaint, he could not send an officer to the town.
"I truly wish he would have sent someone," Sergeant Long said. "It doesn't matter if there is one complaint or 30, we will respond."
Sergeant Long said June 11 was a busy night for troopers, one of whom was assisting a Taneytown officer on a suspicious-vehicle call in the northwest area of the county.
"The town officer had no backup other than us," said Sergeant Long. "When it's a question of an officer's safety, that takes priority."
But, the sergeant said, the trooper could have gone to New Windsor after that call if he had been notified.
"It may be a question of priority," he said. "But no matter how busy or how many officers are on duty, we will respond."
Many New Windsor residents woke June 11 to find their vehicles painted with obscenities and their homes scribbled with black and gold paint.
Police are continuing an investigation into the incident, but have made no arrests. They also have been unable to pinpoint the exact time of the vandalism.
Residents contend that if the state police had responded when the barracks received the complaint at 1:30 a.m. June 11, much of the damage might have been avoided.
"It is difficult to say if we could have avoided the incident," Sergeant Long said.
Several residents blame unsupervised juveniles for the destruction, much of which occurred on Main and High streets.
"Older people here are scared to call police," Mr. Ferace said. "They are afraid of retribution."
Police sent several juveniles home from the New Windsor Carnival the night of June 10 after a fight broke out, Mr. Ferace said. Although the town has an 11 p.m. week curfew, the teens did not stay home.
"This is the time of year for field parties and kids roaming around," Sergeant Long said. "We spend all summer responding to those calls. We are not going to disregard any of them."
Last year, the Westminster barracks answered 34,481 calls. This year's calls have averaged about 2,800 a month, he said.
"Calls increase significantly over the summer," he said. "We pick up a lot of disorderly juveniles."