Sheriff says transition of county policing has been smooth so far

On July 1, following years of political debate, a resolution passed last year by the Board of County commissioners and months of extensive planning and rehearsal, the Carroll County Sheriff's Office officially assumed its new role as the county's primary law enforcement agency.

And by all accounts, few people outside the halls of law enforcement and county government even noticed.

Which is exactly the sort of seamless transition that the Sheriff's Office and the county Office of Public Safety has been planning and hoping for.

"Our workload has increased by about 60 percent in terms of the calls we take, and we were prepared for that," Sheriff Kenneth Tregoning said of the transition, which will take two years overall, culminating on July 1, 2013.

According to the county's Office of Public Safety, if this change had been in place last year, the sheriff's office would have handled about 16,600 additional calls previously handled by Maryland State Police.

Considering crime rates in the county have been stable over the past 30 years, Tregoning said the office anticipates increased demand in the next year or so.

"We knew in advance how much we were going to take on, and our people were prepared for that," said Tregoning, a four-term sheriff who was first elected in 1998. "They welcomed the opportunity to take on that added responsibility ... and grow professionally.

"We knew the job that they (the board of commissioners) expected us to do, and we put our noses to the grindstone and got it done — bottom line."

Experience counts

In late December, the commissioners unanimously passed a two-year transition plan which, when complete, will add 45 new deputies to the Sheriff's Office. The change will coincide with staff reductions at the State Police's Westminster Barrack.

Officials say the change, when fully implemented, will save the county between $500,000 and $800,000 a year while streamlining law enforcement

As part of the initial phase, the Sheriff's Office has hired nine new recruits who graduated this month from the Maryland Police Training Academy, inSykesville.

The sheriff's office has also added to its staff five certified officers with a combined 50 years-plus of experience.

"They have a mix of experiences that will strengthen our overall capabilities," Tregoning said of the veterans, who previously served with either the Baltimore County and Montgomery County police departments, the Maryland Transit Administration Police or a sheriff's department inPennsylvania.

Major Phil Kasten, the office's Investigative Services Bureau Chief, said the sheriff just got approval for 14 new patrol cars to accommodate the new hires.

The experienced officers should provide some of the expertise required for the expanded services that now fall under the aegis of the Sheriff's Office.

As the county's primary law enforcement agency, the Sheriff's Office now has responsibility for patrolling all county roads and all addresses on county roads.

State Police remain charged with patrolling state and federal highways. State Police are also responsible for all state buildings and property, such as Patapsco State Park.

Still, "we will see an increase in the number of traffic accidents that we handle," Tregoning said. "They will probably triple or quadruple over what we handled previously, which takes up a lot of our people's time.

New duties

The office is now tasked with maintaining the sex offender registration in the county, and is also responsible for policing pawn shops and precious metal dealers in the county — including tracking these businesses' purchases and entering them into a state-wide database.

"We also have the ability to check with (pawn shops) and see if any stolen goods are going through their shops, or if they are violating the law," said Tregoning. "That was all formerly done by the Maryland State Police."

In tandem with these changes, the county's Emergency Call Center has been beefed up with eight additional hires, and its operational protocol has been streamlined.

"Now the calls are retained in the center," Kasten said. "The caller is not passed along (to a particular police force). The dispatcher routes ... information (to) the closest available law enforcement resource."

However, as has been the practice previously, "If an officer cannot respond, other agencies will help."

However, 911 callers do have the option of requesting a response from a particular law enforcement agency, according to a release on the Carroll County Sheriff's Office web site.

Residents seeking non-emergency police service still have the option of calling directly to either the Sheriff's Office or the Maryland State Police barrack.

"We rehearsed this thing before it was implemented in order to minimize any difficulties, conflicts or misunderstandings," Tregoning said.

Tregoning also noted that the commissioners recently authorized his office to hire an additional crime scene technician, who will work out of the agency's northern office, in Hampstead.

But the county will continue to rely on the state police for most crime analysis.

"Some analysis we can do in our northern office," the sheriff said. "But there are still certain pieces of evidence, such as blood samples, firearms and bullets that have to be sent to the state police crime lab for analysis."

Attitude of change

Obviously Tregoning welcomes his department's heightened presence; for years he has lobbied for it.

In fact, the sheriff has been expanding the reach of his office since he was first elected in 1998. When he was sworn in as sheriff that year, the office had 34 deputies.

By 2007, he'd more than doubled the number, to 71 deputies.

"When (now retired Chief Deputy Col. Robert Keefer) and I came into office, we went full service," Tregoning said in a 2007 interview with The Eagle. "I knew that Carroll was very low on the ratio of law officers per thousand (residents)."

Under the county's transition plan, 14 additional deputies will be added to the Sheriff's Office and 15 troopers will be transferred out of the Maryland State Police Westminster Barrack each year until 2013, when the transition is completed.

Tregoning fully expects the remainder of the intra-agency transition to unfold as smoothly as it has thus far.

"The professionalism, particularly in the front lines, between both agencies in the past several weeks is unparalleled to anything I've seen anywhere," Tregoning said with a hint of pride.

"We've had the expertise and the right personnel in place to ensure cooperation and ensure a smart transition and not ruffle any feathers while we were doing it," he said.

"The paramount objective for us at this point is to ensure that the response of resident's requests for service not decline, and, if anything, it improves," Kasten said. "That is what all of us have been working hard for."

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