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Town considering eliminating
police department

Chris Patterson

(11/17/2004) Thurmont officials announced Friday they are considering eliminating the town's police department in favor of contracting with the Frederick County Sheriff's Office for police services.

At least one town official said this week that he has reservations about the plan.

In interviews this week, Commissioners Glenn Muth and Ron Terpko said as far as they are concerned, discussions about eliminating the department are in the early stages.

But Muth acknowledged Tuesday he doesn't believe eliminating the police department is the best thing to do. In particular, he said, he is concerned about the town losing the kind of personal community policing it receives now.

Six weeks ago, The Gazette obtained a copy of a letter written by Lt. Troy Angell of the Thurmont Police Department to town commissioners arguing against contracting with the Sheriff's Office for two deputies to make up for staffing shortages in the department. The town police department is short-staffed by about five officers.

Each of the department's police officers, except Chief Terry Frushour, signed Angell's letter.

In the letter, Angell argued that the cost of the two deputies ­ an estimated $170,000 annually ­ would be better used to increase the staff's pay and improve the police department office space and working conditions. Those expenditures would have a lasting benefit to the department and help get and keep officers, he wrote.

Soon after, the town's Police Commission reported that the police department workspace was inadequate and needed to be expanded and upgraded.

Mayor Martin Burns responded to Angell's letter, saying Angell's description of the staffing situation as a "crisis" was accurate and that it was the reason the board was considering getting temporary help. He said there were no plans to eliminate the department at the time.

Now, Angell says, dissolving the police department could be an "opportunity" for him and his fellow officers. His initial concern was about mixing deputies and town police officers, but this plan would eliminate any concerns about that, he said Tuesday.

Angell said he thinks the Sheriff's Office has superior salary, benefits and retirement, among other positives. But officers will still be concerned about issues such as whether or not they will meet the qualifications to join the Sheriff's Office, and Angell said that is normal.

"Anytime there's a change that's big, naturally people are going to have apprehension about it," Angell said.

Burns said the subject came up when Frushour met with Frederick County Sheriff James W. Hagy (R) to obtain more information and discuss costs regarding contracting for the two deputies.

Hagy said it was during that meeting that he raised the possibility of replacing the Thurmont Police Department with sheriff's deputies. It was in part because of the town's hiring problems, but also because he is considering setting up a substation for his officers in the area of Thurmont and Lewistown.

The substation would make it easier for officers assigned to northern Frederick County to fill out reports, question people and conduct other business closer to where they are working. Having a substation in the area would get the officers back out on the streets sooner than if they have to drive to Frederick for everything, he said.

Frushour said a decision is a long way away. The residents, officers and the board need to weigh the pros and cons, which will take some time.

The board met with the entire police department and Hagy on Nov. 11, Muth said. Hagy explained the idea to them and talked about what he envisioned for Thurmont's police staffing. Muth said the sheriff suggested about eight officers, including one lieutenant, one corporal and one sergeant.

Burns said his concern would be the cost of contracting the deputies, versus the costs they now pay for everything from liability insurance and workman's compensation to equipment, such as cars and guns. His other concerns include a loss of daily control over the police and losing the community policing style the town has now.

Burns said the police officers had some concerns, too, about what would happen to them if the change were made, but he said he considers the potential change positive.

"This has potential for all of them to move up because [the Sheriff's Office] is a bigger department," he said. "We can't compete with the different types of policing they have like computer crimes, detectives, and so many more places that would benefit the officers."

But they also have concerns about transferring pensions, ranks and salaries, he said.

Hagy said every officer in the Thurmont Police Department would have to apply to the Sheriff's Office, and meet that department's criteria. He would accept the officers who meet the criteria. He would not, however, make any promises about what rank, salary or assignment he would give them, he said.

"What I told them was I would bring them in at pretty close to the same pay they are making now," Hagy said, adding that he could not continue to pay a Thurmont sergeant more than a deputy if they are doing the same job.

The town plans to hold multiple workshops with the public and the police commission to discuss the potential for a change, Burns said, though none have been scheduled.

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