Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane and once-and-future electoral opponent Jeff Gahler have continued their sparring match over the number of sheriff’s deputies available to protect local public safety, following a letter by Gahler questioning statistics presented by Bane in recent public appearances.
In a lengthy March 2 interview, Bane defended his recent assertion of the number of deputies per 1,000 residents, following questions raised by former sheriff candidate Jeff Gahler over the statistic. In doing so, he said that he plans to run for a third term in 2014. A transcript of the interview follows, with questions posed by The Dagger in italics:
I don’t know that I really have a response to the letter. What I am responding to is the implication that I am either uninformed or misleading the public. The first thing I would say is that whenever I use that 0.8 figure, that is the number of deputies per 1,000 population in Harford County. I use that number because of the scope of my authority. I am responsible for public safety in Harford County, I am the sheriff. I don’t command the towns of Bel Air, Aberdeen, and Havre de Grace. I don’t command the Maryland State Police. In fact, if we really wanted to get technical, those that numbers he makes reference to does not include the state troopers on the JFK highway, doesn’t include the fire marshals, doesn’t include the police who patrol the Aberdeen Proving Ground, doesn’t include the liquor control inspectors, doesn’t include any federal agents that are here in Harford County, any federal public safety agencies that are here in Harford County. So the numbers would probably be higher.
The numbers he cites from that manual, he is right. He’s right with the numbers that he cites…it’s the application of the numbers that I take exception with. I will tell you, it is probably, I believe the number is 294 sworn personnel in the sheriff’s office. Now, a person who is sworn, that means nothing more than that person has arrest powers. They are certified to practice law enforcement by the Maryland Police Training Commission. Now, I’m not a police department. I am the primary law enforcement agency in the county, but I am not a police department. As the sheriff, I have responsibility to the courts, per he constitution, and I also have the detention center. I have sworn personnel…whose responsibilities are not necessary policing this county. They are performing the functions of the court I’m responsible for, and I have several personnel who are at the Harford County detention center. So when you take the numbers out, and you look at the numbers of deputies I have left over to police the population of Harford County, it’s 0.8. In fact, if you looked at the population today, and I don’t know exactly what it is, but we ran the numbers the other day, it’s a little bit less than that. But rounding it off it’s and for argument’s sake, it’s 0.8 deputies per 1,000 population.
I guess an analogy I could draw is, we have the Bel Air, Aberdeen, and Havre de Grace police departments, and we have the Maryland State Police, and they have personnel assigned to them. We also have our next door neighbor Baltimore County police, and they have personnel assigned to them. That doesn’t mean that I can go to Baltimore County and take their police and police Harford County. I can’t take Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace police and detail them to police Harford County. I can’t take Maryland State Police, and detail them to police Harford County. I don’t have any authority over them. I only have authority over my own people, and what I have to police Harford County is 0.8 per 1,000 [citizens].
Because I am the Harford County Sheriff, I am responsible for public safety in the county. If the towns need assistance, under the common law, I have to provide that, and I do. And my deputies have arrest powers in the towns, so if there’s a crime committed in their presence in the town, they can make an arrest. The towns can’t do that, out in the county, unless there’s some kind of MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] or legislation or something that I can do to give them that authority. Hence we have the narcotics task force, hence we have the traffic task force. But taking those and putting them out in the county, they’re performing a specific function.
It doesn’t matter to someone in Forest Hill, or Jarrettsville, or Joppa, or Churchville, it doesn’t matter to them how many police officers are in Bel Air, Aberdeen, or Havre de Grace, or even the state police. They want to know how many police are out there protecting them and how many people the sheriff has to protect them, that’s what they want to know and that’s what I give them. At those town hall meetings, when I said 0.8 per 1,000 population, that’s 0.8 deputies per 1,000 population. I didn’t go talk about the Aberdeen police department to the people who live in Bel Air, outside the town limits, because it isn’t Aberdeen that’s worried about them. It’s the sheriff’s office that’s worried about them, and I’m talking about my agency and what my agency provides.
People don’t know this, but to show you the responsibility of the sheriff. Let’s say tomorrow that the town of Bel Air tomorrow says we’re not going to have our police anymore, we’re going to pack them up and send them home, no more Bel Air police department. You know who has to police the town? The sheriff. When the Bel Air Police Department needs assistance because they don’t have enough officers to handle the calls in the summer time because of the traffic and the bars on Main Street, you know who has to come in and help them police that? And that is a substantial drain off my people. What I want people to understand is, I have maintained from the beginning as sheriff I have a responsibility to the towns. I’m not taking over their jobs, I don’t want their jobs, we need as many police out there on the streets as possible. But when they call me and they need help, I have to respond and I have the law enforcement powers to do that. I can’t call the Bel Air Police Department and say, give me a police officer to answer a call in Norrisville, I don’t have anybody available. I don’t have that. I have 0.8 per 1,000 population to do that. That’s what I have.
Why does he send this letter out now?
Mr. Gahler is going to run for sheriff. He’s already said he’s running for sheriff and they’re already having their campaign meetings. This is one of the volleys that has been put out to discredit the sheriff of Harford County. Between in now and the election in 2014—my God, I’m in the second year of my term, and I’m already having to worry about a guy out there campaigning against me, doing whatever he’s going to do. You will see more things [trying to] discredit the sheriff of Harford County as time goes on.
I have friends who are police officers. First of all, I don’t care what the chief of Baltimore or Howard, or anybody else has, how many police officers they have in their county, it doesn’t matter to me. But if the chief of Howard County got up and said, I have this many officers per 1,000 people, I don’t care about that. But if I had an issue or wanted to know about it, I’m going to talk to him about it. Cops are supposed to be people who get all the facts before they make statements…but why would a police officer do what he did, not give me an opportunity to talk to me about it. If he was really concerned about it, why is he already attacking me in his article.
As it is only the second year of this term, are you planning to run again?
I am planning to run again in 2014.
For sheriff. This is part of the strategy they had last time around. There’s an old axiom in politics, which says, if you can’t attack the man’s record, attack the man. If you can’t attack the man’s record, attack the man. Isn’t it ironic that when he talked about how crime was going up when I was sheriff in the last term, in the campaign, when he was putting out literature that said crime was going up, isn’t it ironic when I showed him the numbers, I reprinted it and showed him the numbers from that book that he’s referring to in this letter, he didn’t want to use it then, but he wants to use it now. Tell me what that’s all about.
You know, the last time around, I took it. The last time around, I let him say anything and everything he wanted to say about Jesse Bane and about the sheriff’s office. But this time around, my people are very upset about all this. This is all very unprofessional. And this stuff that’s out there, people think, what’s going on in the sheriff’s office? We’re a very proud agency, our people work very hard, they put their lives on the line every day. Go out there and tell a deputy on the street today, you don’t need any more people, in fact, you probably have more than you need. And see what that deputy says. I have a morale issue here because my deputies haven’t had a raise in three years. I have a morale issue because they’re stressed, because 0.8 per 1,000 population and looking at the danger that’s out there on the street, my deputies are dealing with that every day, and that has an impact on them. And now, we’re having to deal with all this, with people saying what’s going with this with the sheriff, or what’s going on with that with the sheriff’s office.
Is there a specific number of deputies that you’d want to get to?
After I won the election the first time, the executive and I had a conversation about it. This is before the economy went south. How many people do you need in the sheriff’s office to feel comfortable doing the job? I don’t know that I would need 2.7 [deputies per 1,000 citizens]. That would be nice to have, but I don’t know that I need 2.7. In fact, I don’t think I need 2.7, [but] I’ll take 2.7 if you give it to me. There was a recommendation under the adequate public facilities law of Harford County at one time that said that 1.5 would be a number to shoot for. Given what I have to work with today, that would almost double the number of sworn personnel that I have. I would take that.
But I would also say this, because reference was made to me using an antiquated number to talk about the number of people I needed. I don’t use that 0.8 to say, that’s the formula I want to use to tell you how many people I need. When the executive says to me, or the council says to me, how many deputies do you need on the street, I have several questions to ask of them. Number one, do you want me to use the ratio of number of police officers per 1,000 population. Number two, do you want me to use that 1.5 number under the adequate public facilities law, or do you want me to use the state and national average. But I will also tell you that there is another one out there, that is a formula recommended by the International Association of the Chiefs of Police, the IACP. And that one is based on calls for service and deputy workload. And I will tell you, because I played with those numbers back in the first term, the county would have to hire fewer deputies if we use the ratio of police officers per 1,000, shooting for 1.5. We would need to hire less deputies than if we used the IACP formula. The IACP formula would increase the number we need significantly. And really, that’s probably the one I should go by, because that is an average assessment of what’s going on.
Last year, I had a three percent increase in calls for service, I handled somewhere in the area of—I didn’t say exactly—150,000 calls for service. That’s what I handled, in the sheriff’s office alone. I don’t know what the towns handled. I can tell you the state police, I think they handled somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 and that was it. I can tell you in Harford County…because of the traffic issues we have in this county now, we have high incidents of accident rates. And a lot of their time for the troopers they have available is spent investigating accidents. And when you have an accident in this county anymore, you know as well as anybody else, you can’t put one trooper or deputy on the scene, it takes multiple. So it doesn’t take—if you’ve got three or four, maybe five troopers on the road, it doesn’t take much on a night like tonight to tie them up on nothing but accidents on state roads. Now I’m doing the same thing with my deputies on county roads.
Several years ago in my first term, I was approached by the commander of the local barrack, who said that we need to do something about this 911 formula we have for alternating calls for service. When I’ve got 230, 240, 250 deputies, whatever that number is, available for law enforcement services in this county, and they have somewhere between 40 and 50, and you’re taking 911 troopers and giving the state one, and the sheriff one…the state is not prepared to handle that load. Take 165,000 calls for service if you combine theirs and ours last year, and we have that formula and we were alternating those calls back and forth, they don’t have the horses to pull that. And what happens is, when your calls for service particularly your 911 calls overburden what your available personnel are out there on the street, you have emergencies that may take awhile to go answer, because there’s nobody available to answer it. So the barrack commander approached me and said would you be willing to change this ratio.
I said I’ve been willing for a number of years, previous sheriffs have tried this, but it’s always been stopped somewhere along the line before it gets to your headquarters. But I said if you are willing to sit down, and we’ll take a look to see how we should come up with that distribution, I said I will go talk to the superintendent of the Maryland State Police to find out if he is willing to do that. Because if we’re willing to go through this exercise where it’s going to be stopped somewhere before it gets to him, I don’t want to waste your time or mine. I’m going to go right to the superintendent and see how he feels. So I set up a meeting with Terry Sheridan and I told him that this is the concern, and I said I’m not here to go behind anyone’s back, I’ve already talked to your barrack commander and he’s in favor of it. If you are in favor of it, please tell me, and we’ll pursue it. But if it’s going to stop somewhere between you and the Bel Air barrack in that chain of command, or if you don’t like that idea, just tell me and we’ll continue to operate the way that we did.
His words were to the effect that, you need to do that. So now where have a thing where the state handles the calls on state roads, we handle the calls on county roads, and there’s an alternating of some calls between the state and the county on state roads. But it’s a more equitable distribution of personnel and it needed to be done if we were going to be looking out for the interests of the people that we serve.
So you’re running again. We don’t usually think to ask the question, this far out.
I shouldn’t have to give an answer this far out because, good God, I’m just in the beginning of my second term, and I’m already getting this stuff about, well are you going to run, because you’ve got this guy—in fact there’s two people out there running for sheriff.
This October I’ll be starting my 40th year in the agency. I started in 1972. This agency today is so far ahead of what it was then. And we still have a ways to go. But the work that we need to do to get it done…if I can get it done by the end of this term, then that’ll be it. But I don’t think for what we need to do, to get it to where I think it should be, it’s going to take another term to do it.
And you know, a lot of it depends on whether I can get the resources to do it. Probably there’s been no sheriff since the Great Depression that’s had to deal with the size of the economic downturn that I had to deal with, and the budget I had to deal with, and the lack of resources that I’ve had to deal with. This has been a very difficult four years. My budget has been flatlined or maybe even cut, with the executive asking that if you can save money anywhere, please give it back. And I’m a team player, I do whatever I can. But I do know I have to take care of this agency.
When the executive and I first met in my first term, we had discussed increasing the size of the force on the street by 60 people. That wouldn’t get use where we need to be, but over four years, 60 people. Now we get the economy that does a downturn. He and the county council have only been able to give me 10 people, for the street. There isn’t money and I get that. So we have been very, very aggressive in going after grants, that’s why I’m able to maintain the level of services that we’ve always had. I’m big into partnerships, because if I can share my resources with other law enforcement agencies, everyone wins.
You know, this is probably going to start another volley of whatever. But you know what, I have 39 years in law enforcement. The way I was raised, and the way I am, my word is my bond, that’s all you have is your word. I would never do anything to mislead anyone in any reports that I gave. I tell my people…even when we have things in this agency that when they become public, we’re going to be embarrassed—I tell them, you have to be as transparent as possible, because they have a right to know. We work for them. They have a right to know, whatever it is they’re entitled to, give it to them. Don’t hold anything back. Whatever they’re entitled to.
And you know what, the public will tell you—I’ve learned over the years—the public knows you’re not perfect. The public knows that you will make mistake. What matters to the public is, after you’ve made that mistake, have you done something to assure that it won’t happen again. And that’s our approach here. If we’ve done something where we’ve made a mistake, we analyze it. Every death I have at the jail, every complaint that we have where there’s a major incident out in the county, we look at that thing with a fine tooth comb to say, what is it that when this happens in the future, we’ll be better prepared for it, or maybe we can even prevent this from happening. That’s the way you do the job.
Sooner or later, when you tell a lie, it’s going to find you out. When you tell a lie, you have to remember what you lied about the next time you’re asked the question. But sooner or later, I’ve learned a long time ago, from watching other people, your lies catch up with you. First of all, it’s not in my character to lie or mislead anyone. That’s not me, whether I’m sheriff or not.
I’ve given my life to this agency. I’ve given my heart and soul to build it, to be one of the best possible agencies it can possibly be. And I didn’t work to get it there by lying or misleading people. And this agency deserves the dignity and respect of a sheriff that is forthright and honest with the people, and that’s what I live by. When I got out to community meetings or anywhere, I give people my phone number here. If you’ve got a question or you’ve got a concern, or you’re confused about something, give me a call. I see the public more than I see my wife, because that’s what a sheriff is supposed to do. The public want to rub shoulders with him, they want to talk to him, they want assurances that they’re okay, they want someone that’s approachable, and they deserve someone out of an elected official that does that. That’s my job.
And it’s my job to make sure they have a sheriff that is honest and forthright about everything. And in all my dealings with anybody, that’s all it will ever be. There’s no election that’s so important to me, and that job’s so important to me that I will ever lie or mislead anybody about it. The people of Harford County will pick who they want the sheriff to be, and if it’s not me the next time around, then I can live with that. I know they wanted me the first time around, and I know they wanted me the second time around, and that’s an honor. And I know I will have to leave here someday. And if it’s by being voted out of office, that’s fine, and I will live by that, because it’s what the people want.
I tell people, if you ever get unhappy with me, or if I have ever done anything that was against the law, illegal, crooked, you won’t have to ask me to step down, I’ll step down. Because this agency does not need a sheriff with that kind of background. The public does not need a sheriff with that kind of background.
In response to Bane’s comments, Gahler sent the following letter to the editor March 4:
I want to thank Sheriff Bane for responding to my letter and conceding to my presentation of the facts. Integrity is the key that opens the communities trust and is the bridge that connects the community to its elected officials. As the County’s chief law enforcement officer, Sheriff Bane is solely responsible for the proper deployment of the hard working public servants that make up the Sheriff’s Office and who work to keep our citizens and communities safe. As Sheriff, it is also his duty to our citizens to ensure that every “foot” in the Sheriff’s Office is dedicated to fighting crime and disorder on our streets, not just those assigned to Patrol.
Much attention has been paid to this subject by the citizens of Harford County. I applaud the interest and the concern. Sheriff Bane has chosen to divert attention from the main issue of candor when laying the foundation for additional personnel by again trying to influence the citizens by stating “I don’t have that number to police the county” and “that the number of sworn deputies working for the Sheriff’s Office does not translate to the number of feet on the street.” While Sheriff Bane concedes that the statistics as outlined in my initial letter are indeed accurate, it is obvious that these quotes are yet another attempt to persuade the citizens of the need for additional deputies by still using the same misleading information.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) link (provided below) is to an article concerning Police Officer to Population Ratios. As is clearly stated in the center of the article, “Ratios, such as officers-per-thousand population, are totally inappropriate as a basis for staffing decisions.” The report concludes with reporting the average ratio of full time officers per 1,000 residents and shows that number for a population of 100,000 to 249,999 to be 1.9 officers. Full time officers included in this calculation by the IACP includes all police officers regardless of their assignment (patrol, investigation, administrative or other). With Harford County’s population at approximately 247,000, Harford County’s ratio of full time officers per 1,000 residents is in line with the national average, not below the average as Sheriff Bane would have one believe. Sheriff Bane chooses to still espouse his claim of .8 officers per 1,000 residents while excluding the sworn deputies outside the patrol force. He does this while also still using the national average as a target of 2.7 per 1,000 residents which is the average for populations larger than Harford County’s and includes all full time officers into the calculation. Effectively, this is comparing apples to oranges and expecting no one will notice. Although it is an inventive tactic, Sheriff Bane can’t have it both ways.
According to the County’s Fiscal 2012 budget, there are 291 sworn deputy positions. This is exclusive of the 132 Correctional Deputy positions assigned to the Jail. Regrettably, this is now another area where Sheriff Bane is hoping to cloud the staffing issue. These figures can be found on page 501 of the County’s Budget Report (http://www.harfordcountymd.gov/Budget/Download/1713.pdf).
As a candidate for Sheriff in 2010, one of my main priorities was to ensure an adequate patrol force exists to meet the needs of Harford County’s citizens. Data driven deployment is part of staffing an effective patrol force. Accurate, timely, and actionable data must be articulated to the community in order to fairly demonstrate the need for increasing the sworn staffing at the Sheriff’s Office. Transparency is key in any process where the people’s money is spent.
Again, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the commitment and dedication of the women and men of the Sheriff’s Office and I applaud the great work done every day by the deputies in all assignments who police our communities.
Jeffrey R. Gahler