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July 3, 2007

Bill Folden's Fight

Roy Meachum

With approval from a handful of other sheriff employees, Sergeant Bill Folden decided to escalate the fight to hold onto his lucrative "second business." And that's a shame.

The president of the department's Fraternal Order of Police called a meeting last week in a private Middletown residence. Out of reportedly 175 active deputies, only 36 bothered to show up; two decided not to go along with Mr. Folden, perhaps because they were reluctant to spend tens of thousands in what shapes up as a losing cause. (By the way Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said he continues to receive requests from deputies to work security under the new rules: eight on Monday alone.)

Before announcing the policy change, the sheriff said he consulted both the state's attorney general and the county attorney that could fight the courtroom battle, if any. Most papers I know would never waste print on such a vague threat; they wait until a suit is filed. Otherwise, they could be part of a blackmail scheme. (By the way editors at the local daily should know there's nothing "unanimous" when two people present decline to vote.)

The rhubarb arose over Sheriff Jenkins' announcement that his employees may no longer wear their official uniforms, nor drive a county-provided cruiser while hiring out to perform private security services. He cited costs for gasoline, uniforms and wear and tear on equipment provided by the county.

FOP attorney Patrick McAndrews said the union decided at the Thursday night meeting to go to court because they feel public and citizens' safety are involved. On the other hand, 34 approvals out of 160 dues-paying members hardly demonstrates the union has its act together.

While he was up, so to speak, Mr. McAndrews said Mr. Folden wanted to correct himself; last week the FOP head said the new July 1 policy put Frederick alone among Maryland counties. He now concedes there are at least two others. The sheriff said he figures perhaps seven agencies order officers not to wear their uniforms while working for themselves. How many provide official cars and expenses for free lance jobs no one has said.

If you've wondered - and I have - why all those dapper Smokey hats hang around Westview Promenade, the answer is they were provided by FOP president Sergeant Folden, acting very unofficially. And perhaps illegally. It seems the state has requirements that security contractors, like Mr. Folden, must have a license. Maybe he does. But I'm told he doesn't.

There are those who see this entire hassle as a continuation of last year's Republican primary. Chuck Jenkins gathered nearly double the votes Bill Folden received: 6,256 v. 3360. When the counting was done, Mr. Folden seemed to have a future in county politics, which causes the rhubarb to make even less sense.

Unless we consider the profit motive.

How much dough flows his way I haven't a clue. But, whatever a deputy makes, the contractor scoops up a piece of everybody else's take, plus well-rewarded time when he puts in a duty tour himself. Maybe most appealing of all, to them, is the way every rent-a-cop becomes a law unto himself, since they don't have to report to the sheriff each becomes a king, complete with gun and handcuffs.

Less than three weeks ago I reported in this space how a sheriff's corporal threatened, twice, to throw me in the hoosegow for the night. My sole provocation was asking him why protestors (against a Westview theater movie) had been kept out of sight. Incidentally, I asked, not demanded.

While the incident was reported to then-Sheriff Jim Hagy, the only response I received was from Bill Folden, which totally confused me. While not divulging - and I asked - what happened to the corporal: "I took care of him" he said and moved on. Threatening to deprive anyone of liberty and giving him a criminal record is hardly something anyone can take "care of," behind a closed door.

Presumably, nothing happened to the out-of -line officer, he must feel free to hassle other civilians. I was told that month-by-month the list grows of complaints against off-duty deputies patrolling private property, frequently under the direction of the president of their FOP chapter.

It seems unlikely the matter will climb higher on the legal ladder, as I said. But if the union and its president decide to go to court, the community should keep close check on who pays the FOP legal bills. But that might not be possible: a reliable source says that most companies - but not all - hand cash to the public law enforcement officers on private duty.

Look, ma, no hands, no accountability and no income tax. Maybe the IRS should have a quick-look at the situation.

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