Crime fight key in race for sheriff

… Bane, Gahler focus on drugs, violence …

BY KIRSTEN DIZE

Posted 10/15/10

Both the incumbent Harford County sheriff and his challenger in the Nov. 2 general election have visions of how to address crime and make the county safer.

Sheriff Jesse Bane says he has already delivered on his pledge when he was elected four years ago to reduce crime.

Challenger Jeff Gahler says he will make the county safer by putting more deputies on the road everywhere, not just in crime hot spots.

Bane said the county’s crime rate has declined, but Gahler said he can do better.

“I made a promise that I was going to address the problem of gangs, drugs and violence,” Bane said.

Bane, a Democrat who was elected in 2006, feels he has kept those promises. He cites last year’s reduced crime rate as testimony to his success.

Republican challenger Gahler, who plans to include fellow Republican Steven Bodway, who is retired from the sheriff’s office, in his future administration, said he believes the sheriff’s office needs changes in its approach to the crime problem. Gahler narrowly defeated Bodway in the Sept. 14 Republican primary.

Gahler he will more aggressively police the county than has Bane’s administration. He said addressing crime does not just mean concentrating on Edgewood.

“You always focus on hot spots, but you don’t do that at the expense of other parts of the county,” Gahler said. “You can’t be specific to one geographic area.”

One of Gahler’s primary goals of putting more deputies on the road through increased patrols will improve overall safety, he said.

If he’s elected, the first thing Gahler plans to do is conduct a full assessment of the sheriff’s office and how it deploys manpower.

Gahler said too many people who have been trained as deputies are performing non-law enforcement functions.

He pledges that all sworn officers will be placed in roles that use their training. According to its current budget, the sheriff’s office has an authorized strength of 292 sworn deputies.

“Taxpayers paid to have them trained to carry a gun and police the community,” he said, adding: “You have to police aggressively.”

In addition to increasing patrol officers, Gahler said he will target repeat and violent offenders.

He said policing the community involves “dealing with those who have showed time and time again that they can’t follow society’s rules.”

He pledged to work with faith based organizations, as well as community and police partners to address community needs in an “aggressive team effort.”

Bane likewise sees patrol as a major element in the sheriff’s office and believes changes he has made to the sheriff’s office over the past four years have positively affected the crime rate.

“Last year the crime rate was reduced by 11.2 percent,” Bane said, citing statistics from the Maryland Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

According to the same report, Baltimore City and County also saw decreases in crime — both less than 5 percent — while Cecil County had a 1 percent increase in crime.

“Our neighbors to the west were only half of that [decrease in crime rates] and our neighbors to the east saw an increase,” Bane said.

“I believe that we are doing something right, and I believe that is how we’ve changed policing in this county,” he added.

Bane feels confident the statistics will indicate a continued decline in crime during 2010.

Bane said CompStat, a New York-based law enforcement management system he brought to Harford, is a big part of the positive policing change he’s made to the sheriff’s office.

The system allows the sheriff’s office to target crime trends and proactively address crime.

“We used to police geographically,” Bane said, explaining how he has put an end to that practice, addressing trends instead of an area based on geography alone.

Bane said there are still officers patrolling Harford County and that “patrol is the backbone” of policing, but CompStat allows the sheriff’s office to maximize resources.

“Our agency is apparently a model for other mid-sized jurisdictions,” he added.

He said other jurisdictions across the state have said representatives to Harford County with an interest in duplicating the Harford County model.

“That speaks very highly of Harford County,” Bane said.

Bane said he has put 33 more deputies on the street since 2006, despite dealing with what he characterized as a stagnant budget.

Bane also plans to continue addressing the problems of illegal drugs and gangs in Harford County, areas he says he has made headway during his time as sheriff.

Bane said in 2008-09, the sheriff’s office made a record number of drug related arrests, getting $5 million in illegal drugs off streets.

He also said there was a 25 percent decrease in the number of gang members on the street between 2005 and 2009.

Bane credits his deputies and correctional officers for the strides the sheriff’s office has made in reducing crime and addressing the problem of gangs.

“I think we have worked miracles considering we have not had increases in budget for the past three years,” he said.

If he’s re-elected, Bane said he also hopes to put more of his agency’s resources into investigating child sexual predators and other child safety issues, including bullying.

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