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The Tentacle


September 30, 2011

City Police Dilemma Part Two

Roy Meachum

This city has shirked away from biting the law enforcement bullet for years, as illustrated in the first of this two-part series.

 

Without consideration of breath-taking salaries published Tuesday in my column on TheTentacle.com, negotiations reached a point where Charlie Snyder summoned the media, indicating problems with the union rank-and-file. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) president announced last Monday that he expected a new contract with the city for members’ approval within two weeks.

 

When I moved here – in the middle of the Reagan recession – the population hovered around 30,000. The 1990 census listed 40,148, and 10 years later 52,819. The last federal tabulation (2010) numbered 65,239. There are 133 sworn officers on the local force. In the last 10 years Frederick grew by 24 percent while payout in salaries and benefits to police swelled by 89 percent.

 

Meanwhile, Gaithersburg reached 59,923 and Rockville 61,209.The 2010 Washington Council of Governments Report on Crimes and Crime Control published that these municipalities get their streets covered with 54 and a separate 57 sworn officers. Go figure! Paying for less than half cops, I cannot imagine residents in the neighboring municipalities sleep less quiet at night.

 

But the Rockville and Gaithersburg models offer some form of relief. With a countywide police force, there may be some functions that Montgomery undertakes to relieve the cities. Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins offered to take over Frederick and save somewhere around $5 million. His suggestions could not be rejected wholesale; maybe there are key elements duplicated by city and county. Frederick residents pay for both the sheriff’s department and their own police force. Are we paying twice for the same law enforcement service? That’s exactly why the Synergies Committee came into existence.

 

Letting the politically elected sheriff take over from the experienced police chief makes little sense. But the Synergies Committee, chaired by County Commissioner C. Paul Smith, is all about eliminating duplicate services where they occur in the county as well as the city. Too bad there’s no Washington counterpart for the federal government.

 

Frederick Police Chief Kim Dine has problems now getting his officers to enforce the law, even in a small way. With city cruisers constantly on Market Street, Pushkin and I have real problems with bicycles on the sidewalks. Skate boards occasionally intrude in the mix. The recent In the Street celebration caused me to write a column about cops that watched misdemeanors and did nothing.

 

A friend along Carroll Creek that evening had a similar experience; she dubbed it “blue flu,” which usually occurs when there is a contract pending. Officers call-in sick and if they report, they deliberately neglect responsibilities. Of course, when murders occur and other major crimes, the men and women in blue respond immediately, shaking off what ailed them. The situation has been a problem at least since June when the mayor proclaimed he would not raise property taxes to satisfy FOP demands.

 

FOP President Charlie Snyder brought the union’s self-centered argument from City Hall’s negotiating table to the Frederick News-Post’s front page. Obviously, the FOP dwells in a special world, divorced from reality. With the salaries posted in my column Tuesday on TheTentacle.com, no sworn officers wonder where the next meal is coming from. If they don’t have utility bills and mortgages up-to-date, it’s their own fault and not taxpayers’ — unlike laid-off Fredericktonians who have troubles keeping a roof over their heads.

 

There came to my ears six weeks ago – from an active Fraternal Order of Police member – word was slipping around that the union was getting everything they asked for in the new contract. If that turns out to be true, God help my fellow taxpayers. Oy, vey!

 



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