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3-County Response to Sniper Developed

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 enforcement officials.

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, officials said.

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 buildings.

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 plans.

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," Horne said.

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.

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