Would-be shoplifters and parking lot robbers are having a harder go of it this holiday season in Charles County, Md., where, for the first time, uniformed sheriff's deputies are being allowed to work as store detectives and security guards.

The pilot program in Charles, begun after Thanksgiving, is strictly controlled, with requests reviewed on a case-by-case basis, said Capt. Ross Petrelli, spokesman for the 100-member sheriff's department.

In previous years, local merchants had hired police officers from neighboring Prince George's County and the District of Columbia -- where moonlighting is legal -- in lieu of Charles County police.

"It put us at a distinct disadvantage. Morale was very low," said Petrelli. "Until this year we couldn't work any sort of off-duty job."

This contrasted with neighboring Prince George's County where off-duty police have been doing extra work "for at least 15 years," a spokesman said.

Similarly, a 1982 ruling made it possible for District officers, with approval from Police Chief Maurice B. Turner, to work a second job.

While state, county and local police officers are required to carry their service revolvers on and off duty, area jurisdictions have differing rules on jobs that are forbidden because of possible questions of ethics or conflicts of interest.

Maryland State Police -- with the strictest moonlighting regulations of any area law enforcement agency -- are not allowed to work for any state-licensed business. The one exception was a contract at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said spokesman Lt. Morris Krome.