- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The sheriff’s offices of Southern Maryland already assist each other in times of emergencies or during routine law enforcement, crossing over county lines into other jurisdictions.
However, St. Mary’s County Commissioner Cindy Jones (R) raised several worries Tuesday about formalizing a mutual aid agreement among the three law enforcement agencies, and the commissioners altered the agreement to add an immediate escape clause.
The amended agreement now will go to the Charles and Calvert commissioners for their approval. The commissioners of the two counties already had approved the earlier version.
The agreement, which would codify state law, calls for another jurisdiction to notify Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) when law officers are en route to St. Mary’s County. If the sheriff is out of town and isn’t aware deputies from Charles or Calvert are in St. Mary’s, “that diminishes the sheriff’s authority,” Jones said. “Frankly, that concerns me and should concern anyone in the county.”
A deputy from Calvert County, for example, could enter St. Mary’s operating under the full authority of Calvert’s policies, she said. Outside entities with agreements with Charles or Calvert could perhaps enter St. Mary’s as well, she added.
Jones called the mutual aid agreement, “the single worst policy that has been brought before this board of commissioners.
“This is not something that keeps the sheriff directly accountable to the people of St. Mary’s,” she said.
Jones said the Charles County sheriff’s office has armored vehicles and asked Cameron if he was aware they could enter St. Mary’s.
“That’s a possibility,” Cameron said, but added that he can say no to that.
“Law enforcement agencies operate independently in St. Mary’s every day,” he said. “I don’t feel it subjugates or abrogates any of my authority.”
Jones said, “There are instances repeatedly at the national level where sheriffs have stood up to federal agents and sent them home.”
She continued, “I believe elected officials are responsible to deal with realities.” She said her family lived in South Carolina when Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989. She said after the storm that looters came out, law and order broke down and the National Guard was called in.
“Human beings naturally have a normalcy bias,” she said, where people generally don’t expect the worst to happen.
After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, “We saw law and order break down.” Citizens had to be disarmed, she said. “That’s a reality.”
Local counties need to be able to deal with those circumstances, she said.
“We’re a coastal community — we could get hit any time. We could get looted, law and order break down,” and deputies might have to disarm citizens, she said. “Our citizens have the right to protect themselves and their property in times of an emergency.”
Jones said that New Orleans, after Katrina, “became an absolute hell hole, reports of women being gang-raped, totally unacceptable.”
Initial media reports of rape and violence in the Superdome, which was being used as a shelter during and after the hurricane, were exaggerated, The Los Angeles Times and others later said.
“We can always find extremes … and use those as examples,” Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said.
Commission President Jack Russell (D) said he has experienced six hurricanes.
“I do have confidence in our sheriff and the department,” he said.
Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) said, “I don’t want St. Mary’s County to be a haven for Charles County criminals,” and Charles County deputies should be able to come into St. Mary’s to retrieve them.
Commissioner Dan Morris (R) sided with Jones.
“I kind of wonder why we have this” formal document when the informal mutual aid agreement already works, he said.
There is liability in just about anything that a deputy does, Cameron said.
“Why we’re doing it is to protect our personnel,” he said. “The need is legal bearing.”
Morgan suggested adding the provision for an immediate escape clause from the mutual aid agreement, seconded by Jarboe. The board voted 3-2 with Jones and Russell voting no. Russell said he didn’t want to change the agreement after the other two boards of commissioners already signed it.