The court magistrates in Seat Pleasant finally will move into their new headquaters tomorrow. But Prince George's County police say a bank is no place to bring criminals.
"I don't know what the effect will be on the customers," said Jerome B. Smallwood, manager of the Suburban Trust Bank where the magistrates -- known as District Court commissioners -- will set up shop. "It concerns me if they are bringing in drunks and murderers."
Smallwood need not worry. The police have decided to ignore the Seat Pleasant court commissioners, who will most likely be left twidding their thumbs all day.
"What kind of sense does this make?" said Ted Peters, assistant district commander at the Seat Pleasant police station, where the magistrates' old offices are located.
"Here you have a secure facility. This is where everyone comes. Why go five blocks down to a room in a bank? If they were arrested on drunk or disorderly conduct charges, and are released there, it will be a joke."
Another officer said: "Do you want suspects to be paraded through a bank in handcuffs?"
The plan to move the offices was put into motion last year when Robert F. Sweeney, chief judge of the District Court, visisted the Seat Pleasant police station and found the conditions there "as disgraceful as I have ever seen."
Judge Sweeney ordered that new facilities he found for the commissioners, who set bond and determine whether a suspect arrested by police is eligible to be released or should be sent to jail.
Traditionally, court commissioners have worked out of the county's police stations, including Seat Pleasant, as a matter of convenience. After an officer charges a suspect, a hearing can be held nearby in the commissioner's office.
"I didn't think the conditions at the Seat Pleasant station were disgraceful," said Lawrence J. Thorne, of the two dozen commissioners who work rotationg schedules around the clock. "At the bank, there will be no security at all."
The police also complained that it was potentially dangerous to take suspects from the police station over to the bank during working hours.
[The plant] will require officers to enter a public parking lot with handcuffed prisoners in a potentially volatile neighborhood," the police said in a letter to the District Court. The community is hypersenstive to the police in the area and the sight of a handcuffed prisoner at this location could only serve to add to the problem and jeopardize the officers, commissioners, and the Suburban Trust Company Bank employes."
Last April the State of Maryland leased approximately 500 feet of office space at the Suburban Trust branch at 6800 George Palmer Hwy., several blocks from the Seat Pleasant station.
Recently the commissioners told the District Court that they no longer felt it necessary to move to the bank building. But the District Court insisted that the commissioners work out of the bank during daylight hours.
Some county officers say they think the real reason the court is going ahead with the plan is that the space which was leased by the state has gone unused for eight months.
The head of the Seat Pleasant station then issued a memo to all officers to ignore the commissioners in the bank building and after processing suspects at Seat Pleasant they should take the suspects to the Hyattsville station for arraignment.
If it gets too crowded at the Hyattsville station, the memo said, officers should drive the prisoners to Upper Marlboro, where there is another commissioner's office.
There are also commissioners who work out of offices in Oxon Hill and Laurel, according to court officials. As a result, the Seat Pleasant commissioners may be sitting at the new headquarters with very little to do.
Bank officials at Subburan Trust say they orginally believed that the commissioners operating out of their building would primarily be doing administrative paper work.
Now they fear police cars will pull up next to their drive-in window with murder suspects, or drunks yelling insults during business hours.
Said bank manager Smallwood, "On paydays, it gets to crowded here that we can't even guarantee the police a parking space."