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St. Mary’s sheriff and his commanders laid out their case last Thursday evening for a fiscal year 2015 draft budget that would include a 12 percent increase of about $4 million, to buy more equipment and hire 14 more law officers and five more correctional officers.

The sheriff’s request, which must be finalized and submitted to the county later this month, seeks a balance between “funding necessary resources” and recognizing existing economic challenges, Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) said at the meeting of his citizen advisory board, convening at the governmental center in Leonardtown at the same table where the county commissioners will decide how much money they allocate for the agency.

Following annual increases in major crimes ranging from 9 to 15 percent, the sheriff said, “This year, we’ve almost reduced [those] crimes by 10 percent.”

The sheriff’s current fiscal year budget is $33.4 million. The draft budget proposal contains an increase of more than $1 million in new funds for supplies, training and equipment, about half of which would be spent on new vehicles, and almost $3 million to hire eight more patrol officers, two more special-operations division deputies, three additional detectives, another narcotics investigator and five more correctional officers at the detention center.

The sheriff’s office currently has 130 sworn law officers, plus nine vacant positions, and 74 correctional officers, plus eight vacant positions.

The draft budget proposal also would add three more full-time civilian employees at the sheriff’s office, and convert two existing part-time positions to full time. There currently are 46 full-time civilian employees and one part-time civilian employee in law-enforcement operations at the sheriff’s office, and 12 civilian employees at the jail.

Capt. Daniel Alioto, commander of the vice-narcotics division, told the audience that the agency has collected more than 250,000 prescription pills, but that his officers’ success in combating the prescription drug abuse problem continues to push the offenders toward street drugs.

“Heroin is our ‘now’ threat,” Alioto said. “That’s because enforcement [efforts on laws concerning] pills are strong in this county.” He said that heroin “is cheaper, [and] it’s easier to get.”

Capt. Michael Merican, commander of the detention center, said the facility has been described in one report as the “most overcrowded and understaffed jail in the state.” He said those conditions in part affect how well inmates can be prepared to successfully re-enter the community when they are released, and “coming to a neighborhood near you.

“How do you want these inmates returning to your neighborhood?” he asked.

Cameron said that his officers now are the “lowest paid” in Southern Maryland, and that the impact of that needs to be addressed.

“This conversation will need to continue,” the sheriff said.

jwharton@somdnews.com