Agencies Take Cues From Joint Task Force
by Michael Amon, The Washington Post
Authorities in Southern Maryland have developed coordinated plans to
shut down the area should a serial sniper who has shot and killed
nine people and wounded two others across the Washington area attack
in Charles, St. Mary's or Calvert counties, according to law
The plans are based in part on police responses in the jurisdictions
hit by the elusive sniper over the past two weeks: Montgomery, Prince
George's, Spotsylvania, Prince William and Fairfax counties, and the
District. Southern Maryland law enforcement agencies have been
briefed periodically by federal authorities and the joint task force
charged with solving the string of sniper shootings, officials said.
Law enforcement commanders would not reveal the details of their
plans, but several sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said
the response to a sniper attack would resemble those in other
jurisdictions, including the shutting down of major traffic arteries
into and out of the area.
For example, local residents could expect checkpoints to be set up at
the Gov. Harry Nice Bridge on Route 301 in Charles and the Gov.
Thomas Johnson Bridge joining St. Mary's and Calvert on Route 4,
The plans were formed just before the shooter struck again Monday
night in the Fairfax County community of Seven Corners, fatally
shooting a woman in a Home Depot parking lot. The shooting was
troubling, said Charles County Sheriff Frederick E. Davis (R),
because the scene was not in direct proximity to a major interstate
like other recent shootings.
Some local officials had believed Southern Maryland was safer than
other areas because even its major arteries have traffic lights that
the sniper had seemed to avoid following his first day of shooting in
lower Montgomery County.
"It makes us stop and think a little bit further," Davis said. "But
I'd like to know all the facts of [the latest shooting]."
Authorities are maintaining other security efforts established after
a 13-year-old boy from Bowie was wounded Oct. 7 outside his school.
In Calvert County schools, for instance, all field trips and outside
activities have been canceled until further notice, students are not
to be pressured to participate in their extracurricular activities
and officials were urged to minimize the number of open entrances to
The sheriff's departments and Maryland State Police have doubled
patrols and put officers in every public school.
"We'll continue to do that until he is captured," said Lt. Brian
Cedar, commander of the Leonardtown Barrack of the State Police.
On Monday, representatives from the area's three sheriff's offices,
state police barracks, Natural Resources police, forest rangers and
Navy investigators met at the airport in St. Mary's to lay out their
All agencies briefed the others on their response plans. One issue of
concern was communication and avoiding duplication of efforts,
because each county has its own plan.
"We think we have a very workable plan," said Capt. Joe Montminy of
the Charles County sheriff's office. "We have to rely on other
agencies. There's nobody who has enough people to respond to this."
"All of our plans are very similar in nature," said Capt. John Horne
of the St. Mary's sheriff's office.
Last Friday, the sniper task force, led by Montgomery County Police
Chief Charles A. Moose, briefed Southern Maryland law enforcement on
how other jurisdictions responded to the sniper attacks, pointing out
what was done well and not done well, Davis said.
"We got a very detailed accounting from every agency that has been
involved," Davis said, though he declined to describe the substance
of their comments.
Southern Maryland law enforcement agencies were alerted to Monday
night's shooting by a teletype with the words "Flash" at the top,
Horne said: "It gives a brief synopsis, the location of the shooting,
the time, and to be on the lookout for a cream-colored van."
Local authorities did not put any emergency plans into action,
though, because the Fairfax shooting was too far away.
"It occurred not only out of our jurisdiction, but out of our state,"
The plans are flexible enough that they can be put into place by
night supervisors as commanders are alerted by phone to an emergency.
Details of the plans are held by relatively few people in the law
enforcement command staff. Many officers said they learn about the
sniper investigation from the news media, not memos at work.
Southern Maryland 911 dispatchers continue to receive dozens of calls
a day alerting police to the thousands of white vans on the road. The
tips have yet to pan out, and have consumed considerable resources.
But authorities encouraged citizens to call police if they are
suspicious. The task force's hotline is 888-324-9800.
"I've gotten four calls at my home giving me information on white
vans," Davis said.