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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


June 19, 2007

Bringing the Department Together

Roy Meachum

Chuck Jenkins sparked this weekend the first genuine rhubarb since he was sworn in as sheriff last December. He announced moonlighting deputies could no longer wear their county uniforms or provide their off-duty employers the great benefit of their marked vehicles.

Parking official cruisers on property they are paid to patrol and protect warns the bad guys to bug off. Simply seeing their uniforms presumably puts a crimp in "wannabes" plans to rip-off businesses and their customers.

That sounds like a good idea, but, as the sheriff points out, taxpayers fork over when county cruisers are brought along. According to Mr. Jenkins, his officers have a tendency to let their motors run, presumably to be able to quickly respond or maybe simply for the air-conditioning and heat, in season.

Who wants deputies to sweat or freeze when all cars are equipped to cool and warm? The sheriff told News-Post reporter Kate Leckie that running engines cost $5.20 an hour which comes out of the public pocket. The expense seems more than fair when the officers are doing their job, protecting and serving Frederick County's men, women and children.

On the other hand when the gas, oil and wear and tear happen while employed for a profit-making organization, why should citizens pay? That's not fair, especially to folks already living on the edge and paying taxes.

Deputies taking their cruisers home and using them on personal business is not at all the same. Marked cars can make neighborhoods safer. The policy enables officers to arrive quickly when summoned to the site of a crime or accident. That makes eminent good sense.

When working as rent-a-cops wearing uniforms can be confusing and not always beneficial to the image of the department that good men and women have built up over the years. I have a personal example.

Since Bob Miller and I kick around movies on Friday's WFMD Morning News Express, I spend a lot to time in local theatres; zipping in and out of Westview's 16 screens comes with the territory.

"The Passion of the Christ," we saw there, encountering crowds of demonstrators; the county's Catholic churches jointly manned a table in the lobby, passing out literature with the hope the flick might strike a spark of faith. The film's creator, Mel Gibson, reveled in his belonging to an ultra orthodox Roman sect. It was, on that occasion, nearly impossible to come and go without being solicited by someone touting church.

The last time I had encountered anything comparable was around Washington's Cinema Theatre, which was then playing "The Exorcist." That movie appalled me, not for religion, but because of the gratuitous violence on-screen, and very graphic vomiting. The fault, I felt, was the rating system. "Exorcist" had been awarded the category permitting even small children into the theatres, as along as they were accompanied by adults. They came by the scores.

"The Passion of the Christ" mobs provided the best promotion, one that money simply could not buy, chiefly from born-again Christians. Within a year "The Chronicles of Nardia" drew protests from people who believed it taught witchcraft; they wanted to keep ticket buyers away.

Based on "The Passion" experience, I expected a demonstration wanting to block the Westview's box office. I saw an early viewing; no protestors in sight.

I rushed in, pushing the showing time, as usual. But when I came out, there was silence in the lobby.

A sheriff's corporal was standing on the walk; I went up and asked him if he had managed to confine the demonstrators away from the movie. I was amused and definitely not angry. The contrast with "The Passion" was so jarring as to make me smile broadly, not laugh. I can't explain what happened next.

The corporal transformed himself into a bull cop, first questioning in very unpleasant tones why I wanted information. Since I meant to write nothing, I basically had nothing to say. In any event, his transformation shocked; I fell silent and at that point simply wanted to get away.

As I walked past his cruiser, my car was parked in the lot behind, he informed me that I could spend the night in jail. I said nothing, but threw up my hands in a gesture meant to convey I was withdrawing. As I was almost free, he reminded me again he could put me in jail for the night.

When I was a distance where I hoped he could not hear, I called then-Sheriff Jim Hagy on his cell. He was instantly apologetic and without raising his voice, he asked if the corporal was nearby. When I looked, the man and his cruiser were long gone. Before hanging up, the sheriff assured me he would look into the matter. I heard nothing.

Seeking to replace the retiring Sheriff Hagy, Sergeant Bill Folden and I had met; he brought his wife and had coffee on the patio. We talked about his chances of getting elected. I was impressed.

But I was thoroughly confused when he informed me later he had "taken care" of the corporal; no details were provided.

The mystery of what happened to a sworn officer who misused his power so flagrantly, as a loud mouth bully, nagged at my mind now and then. Only when Bill Folden, acting last week in his "other" role as the Sheriff Department's Fraternal Order of Police president, fought Mr. Jenkins' new order did my mind's "light" turn on.

Sergeant Folden, in addition to his other duties, acts as "contractor," I was told, for hiring and supervising other Westview hired hands who also belong to the sheriff's department. His vested interest couldn't be deeper in fighting the July 1 deadline against wearing uniforms on part-time gigs and driving county vehicles. The sergeant is guilty of three-way conflict of interest in this instance. His argument that every other county in the state allows the soon-banned practices cuts no ice. In Maryland each jurisdiction generally finds its own way on strictly local issues.

If the FOP were serious about protesting on that "all-the-kids" basis, the union could have researched and presented evidence that the decision violates the allowed principles in all the other departments.

It must be noted that Bill Folden enjoyed significant departmental support in his failed run for the GOP nomination. Former Frederick City police officer Harold Domer also enjoyed access and backing from those close to the retiring sheriff; buying votes, he had promised job security widely.

In other words, in cracking down on a highly questionable practice, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins advertises he means to bring the various elements and factions together, and unite his command.

With the bonus of saving taxpayers' money, he's headed in the right direction.



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