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State Police, St. Mary's Sheriff Join Forces

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By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008

In other places across Maryland, the sight might have been unusual: a state police lieutenant patrolling the streets with the county sheriff.

In St. Mary's County, the two top law enforcement officers are also best of friends. On Saturday, Lt. Michael Thompson, the recently appointed commander of the Maryland State Police barrack in Leonardtown, and Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron, a Republican elected in 2006, launched their first major operation together. Joining about 60 deputies and troopers, they hit county streets, searching for more than 200 people with outstanding arrest warrants on crimes such as assault and failure to pay child support.

"This is some exciting stuff, isn't it?" Cameron said, creeping around the side of an apartment while Thompson and a sheriff's deputy knocked on the front door.

By the numbers, "Operation Most Wanted Weekend" did not quite meet its goal. Of the more than 200 warrants Saturday night, deputies and troopers served 25 and made a few other arrests. Cameron had said he hoped deputies and troopers could serve 50 warrants.

"I got the big goose egg, and I want to tell you, I went places that I don't often get to go," Cameron said. "The sense was the streets kind of rolled up and locked up for the night, which is part of what we wanted to accomplish."

The warrant sweep was the first such operation for the two longtime friends, who met when Cameron was a St. Mary's Sheriff's Office deputy and Thompson was in high school. When they were older, they attended Johns Hopkins University together, receiving bachelor's and master's degrees there. One day over lunch (or as Thompson called it, an "afternoon think tank"), they hatched the idea of a sweep operation.

"Just the planning and implementation of it in itself was a success," said Thompson, adding that the operation was the first of many joint projects to come.

Cameron, 49, and Thompson, 38, arranged their employees' schedules to minimize overtime on the operation. A detective from the Southern Maryland Information Center chose 200 arrest warrants for people who likely still lived in St. Mary's, reducing the chances they would waste time searching for people who had moved.

As deputies and troopers milled around a parking lot at Great Mills and Chancellors Run roads, drinking coffee, water and soda, the mood was light.

"Happy hunting tonight," Thompson said to the force of more than 60.

"I've been smiling since early this morning," Cameron said later.

The 25 warrants served barely made a dent in the more than a 1,000 on file in the Sheriff's Office and the roughly 250 at the state police barrack in Leonardtown. Those totals are not unusually high, officials said. Operation Most Wanted Weekend seems to have accomplished other goals, such as gathering intelligence, boosting morale and giving police a more visible presence across St. Mary's, officials said.

"People don't really care what uniform's there as long as the police are there," Cameron said. "I was real pleased with the officers just getting out in the communities."

Although Cameron was unable to demonstrate his warrant-serving prowess to his deputies, he showed them something else: his basketball skills. At one point in the evening, while a deputy was interviewing a woman, Cameron played horse with a group of kids.

Just after he made a shot "from way off to the right," his police radio clicked on. Across the airwaves, one of the kids could be heard screaming, "The cop made it."

Cameron said he later received a text message from a division commander saying, "Does that give you h-, or h-o-?"

"They had home-court advantage, you got to understand," he said later. "I'm going to have to go back to finish that."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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