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Town considers hiring deputies to fill
Police shortages

Chris Patterson

(10/6/2004) Thurmont town officials have asked the Frederick County Sheriff's Office for information about using resident deputies to temporarily fill shortages in the town's police department.

The Thurmont Police Department is understaffed by five officers, and has only been able to hire one officer in about a year, despite numerous attempts.

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

All six Thurmont police officers signed a six-page letter that called the staffing problem a "crisis," and sent it to the town mayor and commissioners last week. Police Chief Terry N. Frushour did not sign it.

The letter, obtained by The Gazette, condemns the decision to hire two resident deputies at a cost of $170,000 per year.

"At the end of the year ... the department will still be facing the same problems it has now regarding adequate facility and competitive salaries," the letter states.

The officers suggested that recruiting and retaining new officers would be more successful than hiring deputies. The letter suggests the town increase officers' pay, and improve the department's space and the officers' working conditions.

A recruit's starting salary in Thurmont is around $26,000, according to a pay scale chart in the letter.

Town officials have discussed openly during the last year many failed attempts to hire new officers to the town department.

The officers' letter states that 54 applications were received and four major attempts to hire police officers were made in the last year. Of those attempts, only one successful hire resulted. A few others are still in the process.

Mayor Martin Burns, who said he has seen the letter, said the board agrees that the situation is a crisis, which is why the commissioners decided to pursue resident deputies.

Burns said the department will continue to be without five officers for at least eight months, which is how long it will take to train new officers and get them on the streets.

Looking into hiring sheriff's deputies was not intended to threaten the officers' job security, but rather to help them in a time when they are swamped, he said. It would allow them to take vacation time, get training and go to court without leaving the department more short-handed than it already is.

But in the end, Burns said he didn't care if the officers were upset because the decision was made to protect the town, which is the board's responsibility.

Commissioner Ronald Terpko said the town's Police Commission is working on facilities concerns for the department, and will consider salary and benefits questions later. He said the board did not intend to replace any town officers with the deputies, but only fill a temporary void.

"I think some people are just jumping the gun. As a board of commissioners, we are responsible for providing a police department to the town. Attempts have failed throughout the years. Even if the income and salaries were increased tomorrow, it would almost take a year to get a new officer in," Terpko said. "Everyone thinks things can be done overnight and they can't, unfortunately."

Terpko said that as far as he knows there has been no discussion about replacing the department with sheriff's deputies. Burns said he would not entertain the question because any decisions of that nature were about personnel, and were therefore protected communications.

Frederick County Sheriff James Hagy (R) said he understands why the Thurmont officers would be concerned about their livelihood, and even expressed concerns to Thurmont Chief Frushour about that when they spoke recently.

But Hagy said those fears could be allayed. Because the two departments have worked closely over the years and he and Frushour have known each other for so long, he thinks the relationship could be worked out on a temporary basis.

He said his office would do whatever it can to help the town.

"It will require a lot of planning and conversation, of course, but I believe it's doable. I've known Terry [Frushour] ... a very long time and it helps to have that kind of relationship," he said.

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