Prince George's County legislators gave preliminary approval today to two measures that would broaden the arrest powers of the Maryland Park Police and give them a limited right to bargain collectively.
The first bill the delegation approved would give the 120 police appointed by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission the same power to make arrests as the police forces of Prince George's and Montgomery counties. Park police currently may only make arrests if a crime is committed on park property, if they are pursuing someone who is fleeing a crime or if they are requested to help county officers in an emergency.
Park police have pushed the legislation since last year, according to Stephen A. Armhold, past president of the Fraternal Order of Police for the park police. "We are trained officers, and with all the emphasis on crime and drunk driving, we want to be able to do our part," said Armhold. "But if you make an arrest and the state's attorney won't prosecute for it, you can be liable."
Prince George's State's Attorney Arthur Marshall has refused to prosecute cases brought by park police, except under limited circumstances, according to Armhold, because he believes their jurisdiction is limited. Marshall could not be reached for comment on the proposed bill.
Several delegation members opposed the bill. Some said a wider range of powers would diminish the park police's ability to serve their original function of protecting the county parks.
A vote on the measure had been delayed for two weeks, according to Larry Brownlee, president of the park police lodge of the FOP, because of a dispute between his lodge and the 800-member FOP for the Prince George's county police. According to Brownlee, county police union leaders threatened to oppose the bill until the park police finally made an agreement not to raise funds by telephone, because both lodges depend on fund raising from the public for financial support. The dispute was resolved when county police agreed to provide some financial support for the 60-member park police lodge, Brownlee said.
Supporters of the measure argued that the bill would provide more police protection at no additional cost to the public. The bill, along with another bill authorizing further study of the issue, passed 14 to 6.
The delegation also approved a bill that would give collective bargaining rights to the park police, who are paid based on a scale similar to that for other Park and Planning Commission employes. The bill does not grant the right to strike or provide for binding arbitration, but allows the FOP to bargain for employes on matters of compensation, and to call in a mediator for fact-finding.
The same bills were scheduled to be considered by the Montgomery County delegation today. But the delegates, whose agenda was not completed, did not take up the issue of arrest powers. The Montgomery County delegation voted to assign a five-member subcommittee to review the collective bargaining proposal.