- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A combined detectives unit created about 10 years ago by a St. Mary’s sheriff and Maryland State Police barrack commander is losing at least two of its three troopers as the state agency returns to a statewide, multi-jurisdiction focus.
The formation of the St. Mary’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations was heralded as an end to turf wars between the sheriff’s office and state police. The aim was to eliminate the dispute over which agency would handle a major crime, depending on whose patrol officer was the first to arrive at the scene.
State police maintained last week that the two agencies will continue to assist each other when it’s needed to solve cases, but the county’s sheriff and state’s attorney bemoaned the coming end to a team approach.
“We eliminated dysfunction of two competing agencies, and maximized efficiency and our efforts,” Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) said of the benefits of the bureau initiated by his predecessor and a state police lieutenant. “I don’t look at where [a case] originated,” Cameron said. “What does it matter if the end product is that we’re closing cases?”
“I just think it’s very unfortunate,” St. Mary’s State’s Attorney Richard Fritz (R) said of the pending change, “This team worked well together. The only people who stand to lose are the people of St. Mary’s County.”
The state police agency was created in the 1920s to track down and arrest criminals who were using a relatively new invention, the automobile, to flee from the jurisdiction where they committed an offense and go to another, according to Greg Shipley, a state police spokesperson. Reassessing memorandums of understanding with other agencies, including the St. Mary’s combined detectives unit, is part of a renewed focus on that statewide approach, Shipley said, in superintendent Col. Marcus L. Brown’s strategic plan.
Brown’s plan, posted on the agency’s website, calls for “every barrack [to be] a ‘full-service’ barrack,” but says his troopers “will not compete for calls for service where county or municipal police departments are growing.”
Memorandums of understanding with other agencies “play an important role in preventing duplication of effort and reducing conflicts,” the plan states, but they will be “routinely” reviewed, with “adjustments ... to ensure operating efficiency and the appropriate fulfillment of the [state agency’s] role to provide support and leadership to local law enforcement.”
“We believe our role is better served and should be directed at what we were created for,” Shipley said. Troopers in St. Mary’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations will be shifted into a state police criminal investigation bureau’s regional office, and their desks will be at the barrack in Leonardtown. Shipley stressed that the troopers will go wherever they’re needed each day.
St. Mary’s sheriff’s office is “the primary law enforcement in that county. We will continue to work closely with them,” Shipley said. “We have to assign people where we think they would be most effective. We think it’s a more efficient use of our manpower. We continue to share that same mission of protecting and serving the people of St. Mary’s County, but our responsibility is the entire state.”
Cameron said he had been seeking a meeting for months with state police top commanders to discuss the possible changes in the two agency’s agreement, which was last signed in 2004. The meeting finally took place last week, the sheriff said, and the commanders gave him a required 30-day notice that their troopers were leaving the St. Mary’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
“I would not hold them to 30 days. It’s up to them when they move them out,” Cameron said, as he now adjusts to the loss of three of 13 detectives. The workplace of one of those three investigators hasn’t been resolved.
“We offered to leave one trooper there,” Shipley said, and that trooper would handle cases originating from the Leonardtown barrack’s patrol officers. “I don’t know what will be finally done.”
Cameron said the state police made the “request to house one trooper here. They’re not going to work cases with our guys. They’re not going to contribute to BCI at all. I told them I would mull that over. I don’t see that it’s beneficial. I don’t have the room.”
The sheriff said that his colleagues in at least two other counties, neighboring Calvert and Wicomico on the Eastern Shore, have similar joint county-and-state detectives operations, and that neither of them have been dissolved by the state police.
“The agency is looking at all its assets in the state,” Shipley said when asked about the joint operations in those counties. “It’s under review.”
Sheriff can’t help troopers ‘uninvited’
Emergency calls for law enforcement services are dispatched to the radios of sheriff’s deputies and state troopers simultaneously. Before the formation of BCI, whichever agency’s officer was the first on the scene generally established that agency’s sole jurisdiction over any ensuing investigation.
Cameron said BCI eliminated that issue, and that its combined investigators could promptly begin working a case, as opposed to “three or four hours” of waiting for a state police investigator to travel to St. Mary’s from elsewhere in the state.
The arrest this month of a suspect in the slaying of a nurse on the Three Notch Trail in Laurel Grove “was a perfect example of everyone’s coming together and focused on closing that case,” Cameron said. “It was a perfect model of what it should be. The results speak for themselves.”
The troopers from the Leonardtown barrack assigned to BCI “know people,” the sheriff said, “and they have relationships here.”
State police will continue to have investigators covering each region of the state, Shipley said, along with additional resources.
“Our homicide unit has one of the best clearance rates of police departments anywhere. We have a strong record to support that,” Shipley said. “We would have investigators on the scene very quickly, and [their travel time] would not delay any kind of investigation getting under way.”
If additional help is needed, “we’re certainly going to call on BCI’s assistance,” he added. “Likewise, our resources always will be available to the sheriff’s office.”
Cameron said his detectives will provide assistance to state police investigators, if it’s requested.
“Unless they ask us, we’re not involved,” the sheriff said. “I can’t come to the party uninvited.”
Lt. Michael Thompson, the state police barrack’s commander in Leonardtown, declined to comment last week on the changes to BCI, noting that the investigators from his barrack have been moved from his supervision through the field operations bureau, to a criminal enforcement division.
Cameron said he met with Thompson on Friday, about their broader law enforcement responsibilities.
“We support each other,” the sheriff said. “We’re working toward the same end.”
Capt. Terry Black, BCI’s commander, offered a similar assurance. “We’ll continue to do our jobs,” he said last week at his office in the sheriff’s headquarters.
Former St. Mary’s Sheriff David Zylak (D), now working in Calvert as a contract sheriff’s deputy to provide courthouse security, confirmed that Calvert’s joint Criminal Investigative Team is still intact, combining the talents of sheriff’s deputies and state troopers — just like the one he co-created a decade ago in St. Mary’s with Brian Cedar, a former Leonardtown state police barrack commander. “I think that’s a shame,” Zylak said when told of the troopers’ pending departure. “BCI was a real plus for the county [in] solving crimes.”