In some towns, residents clamor for more police protection. In this southern Maryland community, they recently voted to eliminate the two-person force.
"Those officers had a picnic the whole time," said town commissioner Penny Beasley-Bell, who heartily supported the move. "People knew they weren't really doing much."
To understand why the residents see no need for a police force, one must understand the nature of Leonardtown, population 1,400.
Located 48 miles southeast of Washington, it is the county seat of St. Mary's County. As such, the town is the headquarters for the county sheriff's department, which serves the unincorporated areas of the county. It's also home to a Maryland State Police barracks, but the police are assigned to patrol the region, not specifically the town.
Nevertheless, Leonardtown residents apparently figured there was ample police visibility around town to discourage criminals.
"You've got 75-80 different deputies and troopers going in and out of town and that's the deterrent," said Edward Long, president of the town commission. "To tell you the truth, we don't hardly have any crime around here anyway.
"Oh, once in a while, somebody might get mad and give somebody else a tap on the head and there may be some other things I don't know about. But, all in all, this is a nice, country town."
Statistics about crime in Leonardtown were not available. But authorities said that between 1983 and 1984, St. Mary's County reported a 10 percent increase in total cases, from 1,596 to 1,760. In 1984, that included five murders, 15 rapes, 210 assaults, 1,104 thefts and 377 cases of breaking and entering.
Although there appears to have been no outcry in Leonardtown about the elimination of the trooper program, there was one last March over another plan involving the town. Opposing residents made sure that a bid to allow St. Mary's County to use the top floor of a library in Leonardtown to house county prisoners was rejected by the town planning and zoning board.
Leonardtown -- named in 1728 for Benedict Leonard Calvert, the fourth Lord Baltimore -- has one commercial street. Along it are county government offices and a few enterprises such as Duke's Inn, the Rex Theatre and a Western Auto outlet. Pots of bright pink, red and yellow silk flowers hang from the utility poles.
The houses, which are old and substantial, have rocking chairs on the front porches and clotheslines in the back yards. American as well as Maryland flags are displayed on most of the lawns.
The town, surrounded by corn, soybean and tobacco fields, also has a library, the county's only hospital, a public high school and elementary school, a Catholic school and a technical center.
For the past dozen years, Leonardtown's police force consisted of two state troopers, who were detailed to the town under something called the resident trooper program and whose salaries came out of the town budget. The resident trooper program is used in eight Maryland towns or communities and four counties, said state police Lt. Larry Athey. In some cases, the officers supplement existing police forces; in others, they represent the only police protection in the area.
Previously, Long said, the town operated its own law enforcement department, including one officer responsible for public safety and another assigned to write traffic and parking tickets.
In May, the resident trooper program was narrowly voted out in a town referendum. In early June, state police officials agreed to let the town break its contract, which would have expired next summer. And on June 30, the town's two officers were absorbed into the countywide complement of state police, leaving Leonardtown without an officer to call its own.
However, town commissioners went ahead and set aside the $72,000 cost of the program in the 1985-86 budget, and the departure of the town's two-man force did not become widely known until the end of July.
In the July 26 edition of The Enterprise, a county newspaper published each Wednesday and Friday, Town commissioner Mac Mattingly explained that announcing the program's early termination would have been like "telling Hitler, 'Hey, we're moving out a troop right here. You guys move right in.' "
Commissioners say now, however, that they have agreements with the sheriff's department and the state police to cooperate, should Leonardtown need police assistance. They say that the $72,000 was set aside because they had not yet received confirmation of the early break in the contract from state police officials when the budget was drawn up. The money will be put to other use, they say. They also say no one has complained to them about the lack of a police force.
And while a three-member committee is studying alternatives, some commissioners insist there is no need to reactivate a town police department.
"I don't believe we'll form our own police force," said commissioner Beasley-Bell. "The biggest problem we have in town is drunks. Within the incorporated limits of town, we have four bars and three liquor stores. I do not think, aside from a few stray drunks which we had when the police were here, that we have much of a problem."
Commission President Long agrees -- to a point. "The main thing we need down here is a meter maid," he said, "so people won't think they can park all day long on Main Street.