Carroll County residents have always accepted as an article of faith that using the resident trooper program of the Maryland State Police is the best means of protecting lives and property. After two embarrassing incidents this month, the relationship between the state police and the county needs to be re-examined.
The failure of the state police to respond to a report of vandalism in New Windsor in the early hours of June 11 was inexcusable. After receiving a call about a band of juveniles rampaging through town vandalizing cars and buildings, the duty officer said he could not dispatch anyone on the basis of one complaint. What kind of explanation is that? If one person calls in an assault or a rape, will this need verification from a second witness, too? We know the repercussions on June 11: New Windsor property owners suffered thousands of dollars in damage that might have been curtailed had a trooper been on the scene.
The second incident involved the escape Monday night of Richard Carlton Hart, a burglary suspect, from the custody of a dozen investigators and troopers. The state police failure to immediately notify the sheriff's office showed extremely poor judgment. Even though the sheriff's department had relinquished Mr. Hart's physical custody to the state police for its investigation, the department still was legally responsible for the suspect. And as it turned out, Mr. Hart was later captured thanks to information the sheriff's department developed.
The state police say the duty officer who failed to dispatch a trooper to New Windsor was disciplined. What assurances do Carroll residents have that it won't happen again? As for Sheriff John Brown, he took matters into his own hands: He says he won't release any more inmates to the state police unless he gets a court order.
When state police performance doesn't meet expected standards, county officials and residents have little recourse. Even though Carroll countians foot the entire bill of the resident trooper program, the state police answer to the governor, not them. Having a police force unaccountable to the residents it services is asking for trouble.
The need for an accountable and responsive police force is yet another reason for Carroll residents to re-examine the concept of establishing a county police department.