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Making the most of small-town policing

James Rada, Jr.
Thurmont Dispatch

(4/6) Even with a new $75,000 a year mortgage payment, Thurmont’s police force is proving itself a value both for its costs and services provided to the citizens of Emmitsburg.

In Frederick County, different areas use different forms of policing. Thurmont and other municipalities have their own police force. Some municipalities, like Emmitsburg, contract to have Frederick County Sheriff’s Office Deputies or Maryland State Police troopers work in their towns. Other areas rely on Frederick County Sheriff’s patrols for their police coverage.

“I totally support the local police force,” said Thurmont Commissioner Glenn Muth who serves as the liaison on the Thurmont Police Commission. “They have a quick response time and do a lot of crime prevention.”

Small-town police forces are also called on to do more than community policing.

“We do the small things like parking enforcement, animal complaints, weeks…they’re all a big part of being accessible,” said Thurmont Police Chief Greg Eyler.

A check of additional services provided by the local police as opposed to county deputies or state police include residential vacation checks, municipal code enforcement, back up crossing guards, traffic details for street crews, funeral escorts, Colorfest coverage, emergency business contacts and informing town staff when lights are non-functioning during night hours or snow needs to be plowed.

Emmitsburg Mayor James Hoover said that while the community deputies in Emmitsburg don’t do municipal code enforcement, he find other value with having community deputies.

“Essentially, we never have a vacancy,” Hoover said. “There’s a lot more flexibility. If one of our deputies gets promoted, I have several hundred deputies to kind of pick and choose from.”

He also said that the contract with the county sheriff’s office not only covers the personnel expenses like salary and retirement, it also include the officer’s equipment and vehicle.

However, that all comes with a cost and the cost means that for a bottom-line cost of $104,694 this year ($44.24 per resident), Emmitsburg gets three community deputies and partial coverage. On the other hand, Thurmont will pay $338,551 this year ($56.10 per resident) and get 24/7 coverage and 10 officers.

“I think it comes down to control,” Hoover said. “How much control of community services do you want? We (Emmitsburg) don’t really have much of that.”

Eyler also pointed out that in addition to 24/7 coverage, Thurmont citizens don’t have to drive to Frederick to get police reports, the citizens know the officers and can address any issues with them to the chief, and the commissioners can easily call for information on crime incidents in town.

“I’m not going to stop until we have the most professional police department around,” Eyler said.

He said that the generally accepted staffing ratio for a small municipal force is two officers per 1,000 residents. So if he can get his department up to 12 officers next year, he’ll consider it fully staffed for the foreseeable future.

Hoover also noted that for a small municipality like Emmitsburg starting a police department would carry a very heavy cost to purchase equipment, furnish offices, secure files and hire personnel. While future costs would drop off, it’s the initial start-up costs that becomes cost prohibitive.

How much does police protection cost residents

                                     Thurmont     Emmitsburg     Middletown     Brunswick
Police costs              $846,570      $316,415         $347,000         $821,673
- grants / tax equity   $508,019     $211,721         $272,202          $469,263
= total police cost      $338,551     $104,694         $74,798           $352,410

# of residents            6,035          2,366              2,858              5231
# of officers              10              3                    3                    7

Cost per resident       $56.10         $44.24             $26.17            $67.37
Cost per officer         $33,855.10   $34,898.00        $24,933.00      $50,344.29

Source: Municipal budgets, Thurmont Police information, Maryland Department of Planning.

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