Writer’s note: A shortened version of this appeared in the Sunday Carroll Eagle on August 17, 2008: “And now, for this week’s installment of ‘La Policia,’ in the Opinion section of the paper.
Carroll County’s reputation for low crime and an aggressive approach to public safety is not a recent phenomenon.
Over 80 years ago on July 16, 1925, the editor of the American Sentinel newspaper in Westminster, Joseph D. Brooks wrote that many “years ago Carroll county was known to criminals all over the state as an ‘open door to the penitentiary,’ and many there were who entered by way of that door.”
However, as one can imagine when a community determines any public policy to be of paramount importance there are bound to be impassioned conflicts and dramas.
Writing for the Historical Society of Carroll County in 2001, Jay Graybeal noted in his introduction of the 1925 newspaper article, “Why the Listlessness of the Sheriffs of Carroll County?”; that it seems that Mr. Brooks had become unhappy with the Carroll County sheriff and state’s attorney and was letting them know that in no uncertain terms.
Carroll County history is replete with colorful conflicts, many of operatic proportions, between the Carroll County board of commissioners, the Carroll County delegation to Annapolis, the state’s attorney’s office, and the sheriff.
In the most recent act of this ongoing opera, on October 4, 2007 the Carroll County board of commissioners opted to move forward with a plan to form a county police department headed by an appointed chief of police.
Not willing to disappoint future historians, troubadours from far-flung regions of the Carroll County Empire then entered the stage and chaos ensued. I read several of the news accounts with the soundtrack of “Les Misérables” playing in the background.
The only disappointment is that Victor Hugo, the author of the classic 1862 novel, is not available to write about it.
Just as with any good storytelling, “La Policía” the current epic Carroll County constitutional conflict over the future of the police in Carroll County has many layers, story lines, strong personalities, and plot twists.
The frenzied operatic moments are reminiscent of what a collaboration between the famous 19th-century composer Richard Wagner and his father-in-law, Franz Liszt, would have looked like; with the emphasis of folks attempting to promote a plan for the future that cannot escape the past.
The very first act of La Policía is borrowed from Les Misérables. As the curtains rise, the scene before the bewildered citizen audience is the barricaded Carroll County office building.
It’s August 7, 2008 and the commissioners have just voted 2-1 to not move forward with the October 4, 2007 police plan.
As the smoke rises from the stage, there is a break in the action as members of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department are storming the barricades.
Blinking red and blue police lights reflect back and forth in the fog of the smoke.
In the background, the delegation to Annapolis forms the chorus and is softly singing.
The three commissioners are standing on top of the barricades. Commissioners Mike Zimmer and Dean Minnich are on either side of Julia Gouge, holding her steady as she waves an oversized Carroll County flag.
Office building employees have broken out the windows and are showering the storming sheriff’s deputies with office furniture.
The stage is littered with burning newspapers as the local media has shelled all the participants with folded newspapers shot from makeshift artillery.
Off to the side, Channel 13 news reporter Mike Schuh is attempting to interview Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding. The only thing is - the chief has the 1971 Led Zeppelin classic, “The Battle of Evermore,” coincidentally, the title of the first act of La Policía, cranked-up so loud on the car stereo, no one can hear a thing.
Inside the office building the receptionist, Kay Church, is serving cookies, answering the phones and has armed herself with a salad shooter and big bag of carrots.
Ted Zaleski, the director of management and budget is huddled off to the side with Vivian Laxton, the public information administrator as they try and figure out who is playing what character from Les Misérables.
All of the sudden there is silence on the stage as famed local historian; Jay Graybeal emerges from the fog as a narrator, smiles and begins to softly tell the story of the history of the sheriff’s department.
“When Carroll County was founded in 1837, one of the first tasks…” of the newly formed government was to elect a sheriff. As with many aspects of early American government, its origins date back to the history of mother England.
According to some undocumented notes, “1200 years ago, England was inhabited by Anglo-Saxons. Groups of a hundred would ban together and form communities known as a “tun,” from where we get the word, “town.”
Every group of a hundred, or “tun,” as led by a “reeve,” which was the forerunner of what we now know as a chief of police.
According to Mr. Brooks, the reeve was “charged with the execution of the laws … and the preservation of the peace, and, in some cases having judicial powers. He was the King’s reeve, or steward over a shire … — a distinctive royal officer, appointed by the king, dismissible at a moment’s notice…”
Groups of “tuns” banned together to form a larger form of government known as a ‘Shire’” – what we now know as a county; and my old notes reflect that in order to distinguish the leader of a “Shire,” from a leader of a tun, the more powerful official became known as a “Shire-Reeve.”
Which is where we get the modern word “sheriff.”
20080807 “La Policía” © by Kevin Dayhoff