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Sheriff at crossroads

The Baltimore Sun

With the possibility that law enforcement in Carroll County will undergo a fundamental transformation, Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning is positioning his department to assume control of public safety in the growing county - the only one in Maryland that depends on state police for local law enforcement.

Tregoning made an appeal to the county commissioners last week for additional money to increase his deputies' salaries and benefits to retain and expand his agency, a step toward being ready to potentially assume law enforcement duties if the state police resident trooper program is phased out.

State police have provided local law enforcement since 1974, and some state and county officials have talked of discontinuing the program, a shift that would take about five years.

"The mission and focus of the state police is not local policing," Tregoning told the commissioners during a budget hearing last week. "That mission got a wee bit convoluted as this resident trooper program grew. I think what we'll see here is a gradual evolution, whereby local law enforcement responds to more and more 911 calls and traffic and criminal investigations throughout the transition."

The contentious issue has generated discussion on a topic sure to occupy county leaders' attentions for some time: how best to provide law enforcement services in Carroll.

While Tregoning would like his agency - with an elected sheriff - to be the county's police, commissioners including Julia Walsh Gouge have said that creating a county police force with an appointed chief might be more desirable.

Meanwhile, the 45 resident troopers at the Westminster barracks don't want to leave. The program gives young state police officers experience working on a drug task force, fugitive apprehensions and criminal investigations. They say it's more meaningful work than the more routine patrols of state roads performed at other barracks in Maryland.

Trooper 1st Class Eric D. Workman, who was shot and critically wounded while serving a warrant in connection with a Carroll County home invasion, has been a resident trooper since he came to Westminster in 2000.

He said he has worried about whether the state police would eventually relocate him.

"I try to not take it personally, but it is disheartening to some extent," Workman said. "I like working in this county. You still have people in Carroll County that understand and respect what you do."

Troopers said they wonder about the effect on the crime rate should the resident trooper program be phased out. In handling 87 percent of the crimes in unincorporated areas in 2005, troopers have helped the county maintain one of the lowest crime rates in Maryland, Detective Sgt. Chuck Moore said.

Morale among troopers plummeted upon hearing that the commissioners are considering dissolving the program, Moore said.

Without being able to offer more competitive pay, Tregoning said he can't expand his force of 67 deputies.

"You're going to have to have the ability to recruit, attract and retain your future law enforcement," Tregoning said. "If I can't keep what I have, why should I ask for more?"

The sheriff's office has lost 29 deputies to other agencies since 2000, Tregoning told the commissioners. They have gone to better-paying jobs with police departments in Montgomery and Baltimore counties, to municipal police forces, and one is training with the state police, he said.

While a resident trooper can retire with 56 percent of his pay under the state police pension, a Carroll sheriff's deputy can retire with 21 percent of his salary under the county pension plan, Tregoning said. It's the smallest compensation package among all the countywide police agencies in Maryland, he added.

Tregoning has asked for his deputies to receive retirement benefits under the state-run Law Enforcement Officers Pension System, which would provide 50 percent of their salary after 25 years' service. Police officers with the Westminster, Taneytown, Hampstead and Manchester municipal departments have switched to this plan.

"The commissioners fund the Maryland State Police retirements plans [for the resident troopers], 56 percent at 22 years," said Lt. Phil Kasten, spokesman for the sheriff's office. "Why wouldn't they fund that for the sheriff's office?"

When he was commander of the state police barracks in Westminster, Tregoning said he would like to see the resident trooper program expand to keep pace with population growth in Carroll.

As the county's sheriff for the past eight years, Tregoning now wants to take over local responsibility for law enforcement.

But some at the Westminster barracks say the state police have numerous resources and expertise that the sheriff's office lacks, including aviation units, SWAT and crash teams, and crime labs, Moore said.

"We're all in this together," he said. "All my people want to do is just make this county safe. I'm not in competition with anybody."

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