Since 1851, the Howard County sheriff's deputies had been working without job protection and became the last deputies in the state to be at-will employees who could be let go for any reason.
Despite lingering fear that a newly elected sheriff could clear out the office, repeated efforts to get job protection for the deputies failed until last year, when Cpl. Andrew S. Mackert helped form a Fraternal Order of Police lodge.
Since that time, the group has embarked on a campaign to win its members job protection rights and raise money for fallen officer and scholarship funds.
"I saw a need, in order to get certain things accomplished, to make the sheriff's office a more attractive place for new applicants and to provide a better working environment for the current people working there," said Mackert, 31, who has been with the department for six years.
The FOP Lodge 131 represents 28 deputies, who provide courthouse security as well as serve court orders, summons and subpoenas. The deputies make from $32,157 to $47,466.
The FOP achieved its first significant goal this year when the General Assembly passed a bill to give the deputies job protection and tenure, which means they may be fired only with just cause.
It was an achievement that was long overdue, Howard Sheriff Charles M. Cave said.
When Cave came to the department in 1991, and after he became sheriff, he tried to erase the deputies' at-will status and give them job security. He supported the FOP's legislation in Annapolis, testifying in support of the bill.
"I don't think much of this at-will employing, I never did," he said. "So many lives and careers depend on the whim of the guy you're working for, and it shouldn't be that way."
Del. Steven J. DeBoy Sr., a Howard County-Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the law is "a fairness and equity thing, and it really does protect their jobs."
Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Howard County Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said the deputies' jobs shouldn't be in question with every election.
"These really are not political jobs, and they really shouldn't be treated like political jobs," he said. "These are career public-safety positions. They deserve to have their jobs protected."
Mackert said the FOP doesn't feel threatened by the current administration, but he said the new job protection could be necessary in the future and will also enable the department to be a more competitive employer.
"When you have job security, that strengthens the pool of applicants," he said. "It makes the agency a more attractive place."
Mackert wants to build a bank of about $20,000 for a fallen officers fund and a scholarship fund for criminal justice students. To help with that, the FOP has started a telemarketing campaign, a move that Mackert did not particularly want to take.
"I really hated to do [the telemarketing], but the problem was we're a brand new organization, and we have all these goals," Mackert said.
In the future, Mackert said the FOP will work on getting a better retirement package for deputies, as well more competitive salaries with other sheriff's departments across the state.
"We want to be able to do some other things to make this county safer," he said.