Acting state police Superintendent Col. Thomas E. Hutchins said yesterday he's committed to keeping the resident trooper program in Carroll County but cannot promise additional troopers each year to meet the increased policing needs in the fast-growing county.
During a meeting at the Westminster barracks, Hutchins told county Chief of Staff Steven D. Powell and Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning that he would continue to work with them to meet the law enforcement demands of the county.
"I, too, want to make sure we provide what the people in the county expect," Hutchins said. "Let me be absolutely clear that we have the desire and commitment to keep the resident trooper program in Carroll County."
What this means for the county is that it can rely on its primary law enforcement service and build on that service to meet growing public safety demands, Powell said after the meeting. The state police resident trooper program has been the county's main police force since 1974.
"It solidifies the base of law enforcement," he said. "As we look at how we grow law enforcement in Carroll County, the only other entity that has countywide law enforcement authority is the sheriff's office. The colonel made that clear today."
Yesterday's 30-minute meeting took place after the county commissioners, in a Dec. 4 letter to then-Superintendent Col. Edward T. Norris, said they want to begin discussions to "start transitioning the resident trooper services from the state to the sheriff's office."
Commissioners say they wanted to know the state police's intentions so that they can begin planning for the future of law enforcement in the county.
Powell told Hutchins that the commissioners were reacting to discouraging comments by the state police's previous administration. Those remarks suggested that the resident trooper program would not be continued, he said.
"We're heartened by this conversation," Powell said. "We thought we were going to be put out in the cold because of conversations with the prior administration."
Powell asked Hutchins whether the state police could provide four to five additional troopers annually to meet a county growth task force recommendation that the county have 1.5 police officers for each 1,000 residents in the near future. The current ratio in the county is about 1.3 officers for each 1,000 residents.
"As the board takes the discussion to the community, the ability of the sheriff and the trooper program to be able to fulfill the need is important," Powell said.
Hutchins said he will maintain the current level of the resident trooper program at 51 troopers - 46 of which are assigned to the county. In the meantime, the superintendent said his agency could not provide four to five additional troopers every year to the state police's overall presence in Carroll County.
But Hutchins said additional troopers are to be assigned to Westminster, like all other state police barracks. He said Westminster is expected to receive eight troopers who are graduating from the state police academy Friday. After their on-site training, the troopers are expected to patrol the streets in Carroll by April, he said.
Hutchins noted the difficulty of balancing the policing demands of Carroll County with the other 22 counties in the state. On top of that are the demands placed on state police by homeland security, Hutchins said.
"We'll try to meet [the county's] needs on the barracks side," Hutchins said after the meeting.
During the meeting, Powell expressed concerns about the surcharge the county pays for each trooper, in addition to the cost of the trooper program. The surcharge for indirect costs amounts to nearly $1 million, Powell said.
For the fiscal year ending in June, the county is paying $4.48 million for the program, including salaries and benefits.
Powell told Hutchins that previous discussions with state police on this subject ended quickly. Hutchins said he would like to work with the county on the issue and offered an invitation for county financial officers to further discuss the surcharge with state police.
In the meantime, Powell said he plans to meet with Westminster barracks commander Capt. Scott Yinger to continue discussions on enforcement issues in Carroll County.
Hutchins, Tregoning and Powell said they were encouraged and pleased by yesterday's meeting.
"The superintendent openly stated what he could and could not do with the resident trooper program," Tregoning said. "His resources are stretched to the limit. It gives information to the commissioners so that they could form a solid plan for the future of law enforcement."