In Upper Marlboro, shopkeepers call him "David" and they know he likes his soda without ice. He always gets a warm, albeit slobberish greeting from Auggie, the dog that helps mind the hot-tub store called Water, Wood and Wings. For the most part, he says, the people are very nice in this little county seat he refers to as "Mayberry South."
Maj. David L. Shoemaker is the chief of Upper Marlboro's one-man police department, and he loves his job. He's not stuck indoors behind a desk; he has name recognition; he gets respect and occasionally a mild dose of excitement.
From 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the brawny, 30-year-old chief, whose grayish eyes are hidden behind mirrored sunglasses, pounds the pavement of his half-square-mile beat. The walking has trimmed 40 pounds from Shoemaker, a former District Heights police officer who worked in Upper Marlboro for about seven months.
"This is a retirement home," he said, comparing his new post to his old one "where hell broke loose every other day."
The county government and the courthouse draw hundreds of people to the little town, where the evening population is only about 300. Daytime visitors include all sorts of law enforcers: jail guards, sheriff deputies for the courts, county police for the county administration building. But they are not there to police the town. That's Shoemaker's job.
It's the nonresidents who keep him busy, he says. Armed with a silver box of ready-to-write parking tickets, Shoemaker patrols the 22 parking meters of Main Street. On an average day, Shoemaker says he writes 35 $5 tickets.
"It's good revenue for the town," he said. In fact, about 7 percent of the town's $248,000 budget comes from parking fines, more than covering Shoemaker's salary of less than $16,000.
On rainy days he writes as many as 50 tickets. "Nobody figures I'd be dumb enough to be out in the rain," he says with a mischievous grin. No one is exempt from the tickets--not even his secretary or her mother. "When they the town commissioners hired me, they said no favoritism," the chief explained.
Of course not everyone takes the officer's tickets lying down. There is plenty of grumbling about his vigilance over the meters. When disgruntled people confront Shoemaker, he turns the other cheek. "I stand there and smile, tell them to have a nice day, and I'll talk to them when they can speak to me in a proper manner. Then I walk away."
Shoemaker insists that some of the worst parking offenders with the best excuses and shortest tempers are lawyers. "I have a running thing with a few attorneys on parking," Shoemaker chuckled.
Fred Campbell, his predecessor, agrees. He remembers that during his three years as Upper Marlboro's chief his biggest hassles were with parkers who suffered from "the big-shot complex." But even listening to the excuses was fun, says Campbell, 60, whose health problems forced his retirement. "I miss the job greatly. . . .The people were very appreciative."
Policing the small town is not without its challenges. A few days ago, Shoemaker saw a man drinking from a paper cup in the courthouse parking lot. "I could smell alcohol about his person," the chief said, so he sniffed the cup and issued the man a citation for public drinking. The officer also searched the man's car and confiscated a loaded pistol.
Recently, Shoemaker has been tending to a rash of shoplifting at the Mini Mall. Several weeks ago, he caught two young women and a man after they had tried to steal some clothing from Maggie's Dress Shop. Shoemaker called the county police for help, and the suspects were caught as they headed out of town on foot.
While the county police provide coverage when Shoemaker goes home, he says the town, with four banks and two liquor stores, could use one more officer for night duty.
An avid fisherman and camper, Shoemaker grew up in Seabrook. "The only two things I ever wanted to be was a professional soldier or a cop," he said.
He still lives in District Heights, where he left the police department about a year ago. He said that when Campbell asked him if he'd like to take over in Upper Marlboro, he jumped at the opportunity.
"Becoming chief was the ultimate," Shoemaker said. "This is heaven."