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Police fate lies with town residents

Chris Patterson

Discussion about the office used by the Thurmont Police Department turned quickly to a debate about the fate of the department at Tuesday's regular town meeting.

Thurmont Police Commission member Thomas Iaccarino told the town board of commissioners that the Police Commission had two recommendations to make. The first was not to disband the town's police department, and the second was for the town's board to support proceeding with researching and planning new facilities for the police.

Iaccarino was referring, in his first recommendation, to a meeting Nov. 11 between town commissioners, police officers, and Frederick County Sheriff James Hagy (R). During the meeting, attendees discussed dissolving the town's police department in favor of a contractual arrangement with the Sheriff's Office for "resident deputies" to patrol the area.

Resident deputies are used in some municipalities that do not have their own police departments. The town hires officers through the Sheriff's Office, and those officers report to the town on police activity. The officers would be employees of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office.

In his second recommendation, Iaccarino referred to work done by the Police Commission to determine how to better hire and retain police officers. The commission recently told town leaders that new facilities was the No. 1 priority to accomplish that goal. The current facilities are too small and new ones are needed for safety, legal compliance and overall efficiency, the commission said.

But during Tuesday's meeting, Mayor Martin Burns and Commissioners Bill Blakeslee and Wayne Hooper said they could not, in good conscience, approve spending any money to plan a new police facility until they decided whether or not to replace the department with resident deputies.

Burns said it is too early to make a decision about whether dissolving the department is best for the town. Hooper and Blakeslee agreed, and said they wanted to consider all of the information and public feedback before forming a final decision.

Commissioner Glenn Muth has said he does not support dissolving the department.

During public comments on the matter, resident John Kinnaird urged the board not to get rid of the police department and to move forward with plans for a new facility for the police department.

Kinnaird said using the Sheriff's Office might present its own problems. He said the "scariest thing" about using deputies was that the town would lose control over the officers and the costs.

"Six weeks ago I ... never thought I would be sitting here listening to our board of commissioners talking about getting rid of our police department," he said. "If you're doing this for budgetary reasons, there's actually no reason that in the future Frederick County may [not] have some budgetary problems themselves and decide to cut back our services or increase our rates beyond what we can afford to pay."

Burns said the only reason the town created its own police department in the first place was because it "wanted more than the county could offer."

It's not the responsibility of any municipality to provide police protection," he said.

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