Sher­iff seeks more staff

Berry re­quests 10.4 per­cent in­crease in funds

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

Typ­i­cally in bud­get dis­cus­sions for dif­fer­ent ju­ris­dic­tions, ed­u­ca­tion and pub­lic safety are pri­or­i­tized in some way over ev­ery­thing else. The same rings true in Charles County where they make up 67.5 per­cent of the pro­posed FY17 gen­eral fund.

But Sher­iff Troy Berry (D) feels pub­lic safety is not be­ing pri­or­i­tized enough. As it stands, in the

pro­posed gen­eral fund for next fis­cal year, the sher­iff’s of­fice is get­ting $82.8 mil­lion from the county. That marks a 3.7 per­cent in­crease over the $79.9 mil­lion from last year’s bud­get, but the sher­iff has re­quested a 10.4 per­cent in­crease.

When deal­ing with pub­lic safety, Berry said, the county has to take into ac­count the “cur­rent and chang­ing” needs in the com­mu­nity. In a tran­sient com­mu­nity where peo­ple are vis­it­ing and com­mut­ing in and out of the county ev­ery day, the needs are al­ways shift­ing and cov­er­age needs to be at a pre­mium.

The sher­iff’s of­fice has “ex­pe­ri­enced lim­i­ta­tions,” Berry said, over the last few years. “Par­tic­u­larly in our sworn of­fi­cer staffing,” he said.

The sher­iff’s of­fice has in­creased its sworn of­fi­cer staff by 10 peo­ple in the last seven years and the pop­u­la­tion of the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity con­tin­ues to grow. In its bud­get re­quest, the sher­iff’s of­fice has asked for an in­crease of 23 sworn of­fi­cers.

“I think the sher­iff’s of­fice plays a vi­tal role in the com­mu­nity,” Berry said. “We’re look­ing at, over the next three years, of bring­ing in at least 30 of­fi­cers. I think we’re def­i­nitely in a po­si­tion to make a sig­nif­i­cant dent in that par­tic­u­lar goal.”

Berry said the sher­iff’s of­fice is will­ing to com­pro­mise with the county and cre­ate a “strate­gic plan” with the county gov­ern­ment to grow the sher­iff’s of­fice in a “re­spon­si­ble way.”

Along with a need for sworn of­fi­cers, Berry said, the de­part­ment is in need of more cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers and sup­port staff. The dash cam­eras on po­lice cars are be­com­ing out­dated as well, he said.

County Com­mis­sion­ers’ Vice Pres­i­dent De­bra Davis (D) said Berry is the one who knows what the sher­iff’s of­fice needs and said she would be will­ing to work with him to come up with work­able so­lu­tions.

At the end of the day, Davis said, the of­fice has the ex­pe­ri­ence of cov­er­ing the com­mu­nity and knows what it is like.

“You’re the ex­pert and I will be the first to say pub- lic safety is No. 1. I’ve been scream­ing that since I’ve been here,” Davis said.

Still, Davis said, the county has failed to plan for pub­lic safety out­side of short term goals and that is some­thing they have to im­prove on to move for­ward.

“No com­mu­nity wants to be be­hind the eight-ball when it comes to be­ing equipped to serve a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion,” Davis said.

Berry said the sher­iff’s of­fice is at one of­fi­cer for ev­ery 500 peo­ple per capita. Ac­cord­ing to data ac­quired from the U.S. Cen­sus Bu­reau, the pop­u­la­tion in Charles County in­creased by 9,567 from April 2010 to July 2015 to a to­tal of 156,118 peo­ple.

The in­crease in of­fi­cers is a “need, not a want,” Berry said, and it has to hap­pen soon as Charles County’s pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to grow.

“Even if we’re in a po­si­tion of, over­all, get­ting 30 of­fi­cers within a three year pe­riod, I think that is a man­age­able way to move for­ward,” Berry said.

County Com­mis­sioner Amanda Ste­wart (D) said she un­der­stands the re­quest made by the sher­iff and his de­part­ment, but she re­mained skep­ti­cal about the of­fice need­ing such a big in­crease.

That in­crease may, in fact, be jus­ti­fied, Ste­wart said, but she said there needs to be data back­ing up the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that the sher­iff’s of­fice needs a 10.4 per­cent fund­ing in­crease so the com­mis­sion­ers can jus­tify pri­or­i­tiz­ing that type of in­crease for one de­part­ment.

Each de­part­ment needs to be on level play­ing ground, Ste­wart said, and other de­part­ments have used data gath­ered from County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Michael Malli­noff’s In­ter­na­tional City/County Man­age­ment As­so­ci­a­tion stan­dards to jus­tify their re­quests for in­creases.

With data such as that, Ste­wart said, the com­mis­sion­ers can make in­formed de­ci­sions on what needs to be done.

While Berry said he un- der­stands why Ste­wart is ask­ing for more data, he said the sher­iff’s of­fice is un­like any other de­part­ment be­cause of the tran­sient na­ture of the county and the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of­fi­cers are sworn to pro­tect.

Berry con­tin­ued to say the com­par­i­son be­tween the sher­iff’s of­fice and other de­part­ments is not an “ap­ples to ap­ples” com­par­i­son.

“The data is good and we don’t mind pro­vid­ing the data. But a lot of those of­fices do not carry the weight of the of­fice I have been elected to,” Berry said.

But Ste­wart held her ground and said she still would like to see more data sup­port­ing his re­quests.

“For me, it’s not com­par­ing ap­ples to or­anges, it’s look­ing at the sher­iff’s de­part­ment to see your needs,” Ste­wart said. “I think it’s im­por­tant that when we set our pri­or­i­ties we have all that in­for­ma­tion.”

County Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said both sides are at the ta­ble and ready to make things work in the best way pos­si­ble.

Dis­cus­sions are a “twoway street,” Robin­son said, and no one is try­ing to avoid a dis­cus­sion. The key to bud­get dis­cus­sions is form­ing a di­a­logue, he said, and “I think we’ve had that.”

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