As 2017 winds down and a new year is on the horizon, Sheriff Troy Berry and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office reflect on the events of the past year and look forward to 2018. Looking back at the past 12 months, several themes emerge: crime and incident response, agency-wide efforts to raise awareness, community involvement, and engagement with our youth.
Crime Numbers:Preliminary crime numbers show that while overall 2017 saw a slight increase in crime over 2016 (during which there was an 11% decrease in crime compared to 2015), violent crimes such as rape, robbery and aggravated assault decreased. “While it is encouraging to see drops in violent crime, we know we will always have work to do with regard to keeping overall numbers down,” said Sheriff Troy D. Berry. “Leaders from our agency meet regularly with law enforcement partners in the community to discuss trends and how to address them.” The CCSO was recognized this month by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention for outstanding crime prevention programs.
Acts of Bravery, Outstanding Field Work and Life-Saving Events:In October, forty-two CCSO employees were honored at a banquet for saving lives, bravery, superior field service, and going above and beyond in their job duties. Of thoseaward recipients, five officers received medals of valor, our highest honors. PFC Andrew Coulby received the Bronze Medal of Valor for his courageous and selfless response to an incident in which there had been several people shot, including two children, inside a home. Corporal Gregory Champaign, Jr. received the Bronze Medal of Valor for pulling a woman out of a vehicle which was completely engulfed in flames and getting her to safety moments before the vehicle was completely destroyed, all while off-duty.
Master Corporal Donald Kabala, PFC Eric Scuderi, and PFC Christopher Morris received Bronze Medals of Valor for pulling a trapped driver from a vehicle that was on fire and filled with smoke. There were also 15 retirees honored at the banquet, who served a combined 362 years at the Charles County Sheriff’s Office.
New Endeavors:The CCSO launched new programs in 2017 which enhanced our crime fighting and crime solving strategies. In late summer, we announced that we would be utilizing Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to assist in high-risk situations and police-related investigations. There are currently five officers who are trained and certified UAS pilots, and they have deployed the drones in several critical situations thus far, including a missing person case, the search for a homicide suspect, and several raids involving the Emergency Services Team (EST). “Public safety led us to the use of UAS. With them, we will have the capability of viewing critical incidents from vantage points we have never had before. The UAS will provide real-time situational awareness to our staff,” said Sheriff Berry.
In the fall, the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) announced that it was organizing a Cold Case Unit. The unit, which is comprised of officers from divisions throughout the agency, will utilize new technology to try to solve cold case homicides in Charles County. “New technology may now be able to tell us more about a case using evidence from some of these older cases,” said CID Captain Richard Williams. “It is our hope that this unit will help to bring closure to these families.”
Legislative Changes:Two Charles County Sheriff’s officers greatly influenced this year’s legislative process. Detective Jennifer McKenzie and Sgt. Jon Burroughs, after extensive research, drafted proposals which were subsequently passed into law. One bill prohibits scrap metal dealers from paying money for cell tower batteries to unauthorized persons, and the other bill allows Charles County Commissioners to adopt county code to require towing companies to be regulated by permits. Both laws went into effect on October 1. “Suggesting legislation is a tedious process that requires research and answers. I am extremely proud of our employees who take an interest in enhancing laws that help our crime fighting efforts,” said Sheriff Berry.
Raising Awareness:With heroin and opioid addiction on the rise, the CCSO along with several community partners including the Maryland State Police, La Plata Police Department, Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) Police, State’sAttorney’s Office for Charles County, and the Charles County Health Department are taking a stand against the heroin and opioid epidemic in our community. Signboards were installed in various locations throughout Charles County which tell a sad story. We responded to hundreds of overdoses this year, and sadly, many lives were still lost despite our best efforts. We are working to bring these numbers down through efforts in several areas, including:
- Education: We are partnering with Charles County Public Schools, Charles County Government, and Charles County Department of Health to bring forth education and awareness about the dangers of heroin and opioids.
- Prevention: With help from our law enforcement partners, we are cracking down on dealers who are poisoning our community with deadly substances like fentanyl and carfentanyl found in heroin.
- Resources: We are working with local churches, faith-based communities, and other community organizations such as PABA (Parents Affected by Addiction) to provide resources for those facing addiction as well as their families. The Charles County Detention Center educates inmates on these resources so that they can seek help upon their release, which helps to prevent recidivism.
Making a Positive Difference in the Community:“The alliances we have with local community organizations as well as our citizens are imperative to our mission of protecting people and property in Charles County and helping those in need,” said Sheriff Berry. “We couldn’t do it without them.” The CCSO continues to join forces with organizations such as the Center for Abused Persons (CAP), Charles County Crime Solvers, and Lifestyles of Maryland. Citizens got involved at our Citizens Advisory Council meetings, Crime Watch Kick-Off, and National Night Out.
The CCSO, along with the Charles County Correctional Officers Association (CCCOA) and the Charles County Black OfficersAssociation (CCBOA), also continued its support for organizations such as the Children’s Aid Society through their annual Christmas Connection Program, the United Way of Charles County with employee donations and participation in the annual “Day of Caring,” and Special Olympics Maryland through fundraising at the Torch Run in June, Cops on Rooftops in September, and the Zombie Invasion 5K in October. Through these efforts, more than $70,000 was raised for Special Olympics Maryland. The Corrections Division made many impacts of its own, to include the annual Toy Drive in support of Christmas Connection, a Reentry Fair for inmates preparing for release, and a Christmas in April project in which an elderly woman’s home was repaired and renovated. On December 2, the Charles County Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 24 hosted its 10thannual Shop with a Cop event with help from members of the La Plata Police Department, Maryland State Police, and Maryland Transportation Authority Police (Harry Nice Bridge), taking 81 Charles County children to Walmart where each child was able to purchase gifts for themselves and their families.
The CCSO is also very proud of the many employees who volunteer their own time to help the communities they serve. Staff members volunteer with local fire and EMS crews, while others spend their time mentoring children and young adults as coaches or camp counselors. Employees also volunteer with the Department of Social Services, Humane Society, Hospice of Charles County, Crime Solvers, Special Olympics Maryland, Center for Abused Persons, and the United Way, to name a few. Many are active in their churches or participate in events such as the Out of the Darkness Walk and the Walk to End Homelessness.
Investing in Our Youth:For the second year in a row, Sheriff Berry had the opportunity to visit each and every elementary and middle school in Charles County in order to conduct “wellness visits.” “I very much enjoy getting the chance to visit theschools and see how everyone is doing. This is one way I can support our School Resource Officers, and let the teachers and staff know that we are here for them too,” he said. “The kids make every visit so much fun; I really look forward to interacting with them.”
Our School Resource Unit continued its tradition of hosting several camps for the elementary and middle school students throughout the year. They kicked off the summer with the very first ever Ladies Leadership soccer camp, held at Laurel Springs Regional Park.
The Cops for Kids football camp took place later in June at North Point High School, followed by the Badges for Baseball camp at Laurel Springs Regional Park in July. They also hosted the Summer Youth Achievement Program for four weeks during the summer at St. Charles High School, and the Just Say
No Camp in August at the College of Southern Maryland. They are currently gearing up for their final camp of the year, which is a 2-day basketball camp to be held during the students’ winter break.
Our efforts extended beyond the classroom, literally. The CCSO and Sheriff Berry supported Beyond the Classroom, a program aimed at helping youth succeed by exposing them to positive environments. Sheriff Berry also met with Inspired Millennials, a local group of youth and adults seeking to build strong communities and strong leaders in Charles County. Sheriff Berry discussed ways to strengthen relationships between the CCSO and the people they serve, and he also shared experiences in his life that led him to a career in law enforcement. He urged young adults to live by L.I.T.E. – Leadership, Integrity, Teamwork, and Excellence – characteristics taught to him by his parents which he believes helped him succeed.
“With a successful year coming to a close, and exciting new initiatives and programs coming soon, we are feeling very optimistic about the future. We are blessed to serve in Charles County, and I can’t say enough about how grateful we are to have this awesome citizenry,” said Sheriff Berry. “We have many great things to look forward to in 2018.”