Ever since the town constable first patrolled Rockville streets in 1801, Rockville has had a police force of some sort. The current force of 26 - including seven who are paid from a federal grant from the Law Enforcement Administration Act as part of a burglary prevention program - is supplemented by Montgomery County police.
Next year, the Rockville City Council will decide whether to continue the present arrangement or to switch to all-city police, all-county police or a combination of both. The city issued a report last month, based on a joint city-county police task force study, on the choices available. And last week the city held a public hearing on the subject.
"As a Montgomery County school teacher, I've had a chance to see the Rockville police in action," Victoria McMullen testifited at the hearing. "They worked closely with principals to correct chronic truancy problems." McMullen said of Rockville Police Chief Charles R. Wall who worked with problem youths at her school, "He gave them respect and he earned their respect."
Most of the citizens at the hearing who favored an all-city police force (which would increase the Rockville force from 26 to 65) or the present arrangement cited the closeness of the city police with the community, their tact and their prompt arrival when responding to a call.
"Sometimes just a few minutes can make a lot of difference," Graig de Haven, the general manager of the Ramada Inn in Rockville, told the City Council. "Anyone in the hotel or restaurant business knows this."
Other businessmen who testified shared his view. "The city police know the area better than the county police," said Patrick Henry Ramsey, the president of the Rockville Mall Merchants Association.
Those who favored switching to an all-county police force said Rockville police would always be small-time compared to Montgomery County police. "The Montgomery County police force is a first-class professional police force," said Joseph E. Jeffs, a Bowie Road resident. Jeffs cited one incident in which he said the Rockville police came to his home unannounced at 5 a.m. one day last summer and questioned one of his teenage sons while shining a flashlight in his son's face as the boy lay in bed.
The members of the Montgomery police force "are thorough, courteous, well-trained, and every officer that I have ever encountered has been aware of the law and the limitations of the law," said Jeffs. "Rockville cannot hope to replicate the training program given the police officers of the county."
Others said a combined county-city force complicates things, "I cannot support an additional layer to the bureaucracy," said Rockville resident Viota Hovsepian.
Assistant city manager Daniel G. Hobbs, who headed the committee that put the report together, said no one he knows of supports an all-city force without some form of a tax rebate for Rockville residents. But once that's done, Hobbs said, an all-city force could actually save the county money. It costs the county $2.7 million to supply Rockville with county police, and in addition, Rockville residents pay $740,000 for their city police force. But the total cost of a larger, all-city force, would be $2.1 million, Hobbs said.
City officials said they do not know whether an all-city force would be funded with the city taxes or with county taxes paid by Rockville residents. However, officials have said they would support such a force only if Rockville residents are guaranteed some break on their county taxes.