County Police Department Not an Issue in 2022

Updated: May 31

Frederick News-Post, November 10, 2021

By Karl Bickel

Now that Frederick’s city elections are behind us and as we adjust our sights and focus on the upcoming 2022 contest, all of us would be better served by starting the new electoral season off discussing policy differences in honest, truthful terms and avoid misleading rhetoric intended to stir emotions and deceive the voting population.

The current sheriff, who in a Jan. 26 speech before the Frederick County Conservative Club characterized the COVID pandemic, that has now killed over 700,000 Americans and was the most common cause of death among law enforcement officers in 2020, as the biggest fraud ever played. He also stated the 2020 presidential election “was stolen” in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

During a July endorsement speech in support of the Republican candidate for Frederick County executive, the sheriff said that the Democratic candidates for county executive, Kai Hagen and Jessica Fitzwater, if elected, will create a county police department in place of the sheriff’s office.

A search of available literature from the Hagen and Fitzwater campaigns resulted in no findings or mention of a county police department, the sheriff’s office or the sheriff.

The county executive cannot unilaterally form a county police department. A county police department can be created by amending the County Charter or through an ordinance passed by the county council, not at the whim of a county executive.

It is understandable that the sheriff is more than a bit sensitive when it comes to the topic of a county police department. Many citizens who have been dissatisfied with the sheriff during his tenure have called for such a change, yet his knowledge on the topic seems to be limited.

Out of Maryland’s 23 counties only five have county police departments. Only about 2 percent of the nation’s over 3,000 counties have county police departments. The last time a Maryland county moved to a county police department for local law enforcement services was in 1952 when the Howard County Police Department was created. The first was Baltimore County in 1874.

When there is dissatisfaction with a sheriff, as there is here in Frederick County, those favoring a county police department and an appointed police chief generally focus on specific policies, political influence or extremism and professional qualifications as the issues justifying change.

When it comes to qualifications, a candidate for sheriff only need be 25 years of age, a resident of Maryland for the previous five years and a resident of the county in which they run for office. This represents a glaring contrast from the minimum qualifications generally seen for a contemporary police chief that include higher education, extensive training and years of relevant experience.

The office of sheriff was established in the state constitution and would not disappear if a county police department were created. Its mission would change and its responsibilities would be reduced. The sheriff would still run the jail, transport prisoners, provide courthouse security and serve civil and criminal process.

At this time of political turmoil, we don’t need politicians, candidates, and their supporters tossing a red herring like the formation of a county police department into the already churning political waters.

There are plenty of legitimate policy issues to discuss in the race for county executive including budgets, land use, housing, health care, and serving an aging population to name a few. They are all opportunities to present opposing views.

An informed voter will be better served by candidates and their supporters when policy differences are discussed in honest, truthful terms without misleading rhetoric intended to stir emotions and deceive.

Karl Bickel, formerly second in command of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and former assistant professor of criminal justice is retired from the U.S. Department of Justice and writes from Monrovia.

Originally published in The Frederick News-Post:

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