LEONARDTOWN, Md. – Tim Cameron joined the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy on July 3, 1980. Hired under Sheriff Joseph Lee Somerville Sr., the Sheriff’s Office then had 29 deputies and an operating budget of less than $1 million.
Cameron, 63, is now finishing his historic fourth consecutive term as St. Mary’s County Sheriff, today an agency with 152 deputies budgeted and an annual operating budget of $58.9 million.
Sheriff Cameron recently took time to reflect on the changes he has seen over the past 40 years in law enforcement and over the course of his four terms serving here in St. Mary’s County.
The Sheriff fondly recalls his first cruiser as a deputy – a 1977 Plymouth Fury. It was a fast car, but it also had braking issues, he said. Police cruisers had radios, which had to be turned all the way up when a deputy was away from the vehicle to continue to hear calls. Soon deputies were outfitted with portable radios they could carry on their person.
Starting in 2012, St. Mary’s County government rolled out a new 800 MHz communications system, which included installing new radio transmission towers across the county, to greatly improve coverage for portable radios worn by emergency first responders.
“That was a revolution when we went to the 800 MHz system,” Sheriff Cameron said.
Deputy sheriffs are now outfitted with mobile data browsers in their police cruisers, displaying the active calls on the county’s automated dispatch system. “We have great technology that works all of the time,” he said.
Sheriff Cameron served in each division of the Sheriff’s Office over his career and said the Special Operations Division was his favorite to serve in.
Cameron briefly retired from the Sheriff’s Office and was appointed as the St. Mary’s County Director of Public Safety in November 2005 where he served until he ran successfully for Sheriff in the 2006 election.
“Every term was distinctly different,” Sheriff Cameron said.
The Sheriff still recalls a high-profile kidnapping at a local bank in California. “That’s a case for the ages,” he said.
In the summer of 2008, the culprits began watching the daily activities of the bank manager of the California PNC Bank. On Sept. 24, 2008, Quinita Ennis, Joseph Frederick Brown and William Johnson drove to the bank manager’s home, wearing masks and camouflage clothing along with a 9 mm rifle. The kidnappers took the manager and her two young children and drove them to the bank in the manager’s car. With her 19-month-old child being held hostage, the bank manager went inside and retrieved $169,900. The bank manager and her son were driven to Green Holly Elementary School nearby and released.
Brown and Johnson then buried the rifle and buried $84,000 in cash in safes, which was recovered during a search of the property. The kidnappers were sentenced to terms in prison ranging from eight years to 19 years and were ordered to pay restitution.
Detectives on that case “did an amazing job,” Sheriff Cameron said.
Prescription pill abuse was the major issue of the day 16 years ago and the Sheriff’s Office began tracking that data in 2007. But as prescription opioids continued to be abused locally and nationally, users found that addiction was too costly to maintain.
“We started clamping down on pills and people went to heroin, which was cheaper and more plentiful,” Sheriff Cameron said.
Law enforcement is still dealing with the effects of opioid and heroin abuse. Deputies regularly administer Narcan to those overdosing, often saving the victims lives. In 2022, almost 100 doses of Narcan were used by deputies in overdose responses.
Further compounding drug addiction issues is the prevalence of Fentanyl, a deadly substance added by drug dealers into their product.
“It’s all made in China and that stuff is coming across the border unchecked,” Sheriff Cameron said.
And then COVID-19 entered the world stage and made its way to Maryland and St. Mary’s County. “It challenged every aspect of government services,” the Sheriff said.
With a stay-at-home order issued by the Governor in March 2020, “I’ve never seen anything like that – barren streets,” in St. Mary’s County, Cameron said.
But the Sheriff’s Office remained opened and responded to calls for the duration of the pandemic.
Sheriff Cameron noted that no one in St. Mary’s County was cited for non-compliance with COVID regulations as the emphasis was on education rather than enforcement.
And at the same time, police agencies across the nation were dealing with demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in May 2020.
In early June, hundreds of demonstrators marched peacefully at the governmental center in Leonardtown. What people did not see was the security provided by the Sheriff’s Office for the event. “I had no anxiety about the people demonstrating. We had to be prepared to protect the demonstrators,” the Sheriff said.
There were no arrests made at the demonstrations.
And while law enforcement continues to have recruitment and retention issues across the nation, Sheriff Cameron said he is very pleased with the agency’s progress that was made during his tenure.
“There was definitely a need of a culture change here,” when he first took office as Sheriff, Cameron said. “That took a number of years to shift the culture. There is absolutely a healthy culture now – our mission to protect our citizens from criminals and events. We have very talented, hard-working people here who are very disciplined,” he said.
His philosophy as sheriff was to hire quality applicants, continue high levels of employee training, continual reinvestment into personnel and holding them accountable and “that work towards having a community that is engaged and proud of their police,” he said.
“Just tell people like it is,” Sheriff Cameron said. “If you engage the public and ask them to be your eyes and ears, they can do it. You just need to let them know what they’re looking for.”
Captain Steven Hall, Commander of the Special Operations Division, won the Republican primary election for St. Mary’s County Sheriff this year. Sheriff-Elect Hall takes the Oath of Office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022.
Sheriff-Elect Hall said of Sheriff Cameron, “If there is one person who has set the example, bent the trends and reshaped perception of local law enforcement, it is you.” Upon first meeting Cameron as a 16-year-old at Mattapany Camp, Hall said. “From that day to present, I am amazed at how people were drawn to you — the ease and comfort with which you held conversations and the attention of those around you,” Hall said.
“I was influence and wanted to do not just what you did, but how you did it,” he said. “I admire your passion for people in our profession and thirst for education. Forward march, forward lean and follow through is the Cameron way,” Hall said.
“I am profoundly moved by a principled life lived in the service of others without complaint or deceleration. That is your legacy to us all. You will always be the Man in the Arena to me,” Hall told Cameron.
Under Sheriff Cameron’s terms, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office began numerous initiatives, such as:
-membership in the National Network of Safe Communities, a research center that provides proven, evidence-based, lifesaving violence reduction strategies to communities nationwide.
-the DARE program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) for 5th and 6th graders was reimplemented by the Sheriff’s Office in the 2007-2008 school year and continues annually.
-the Lexington Park COPs Unit was formed in August 2013, providing deputies to specifically patrol and interact as partners in the Lexington Park community.
-Continuation of the School Resource Program, providing School Resource Offices in public schools in St. Mary’s County. In the 2019-2020 school year, additional resource officers were brought on for the county’s four public middle schools, in addition to the deputies already assigned to the three public high schools.
As he departs from the Sheriff’s Office on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, Sheriff Cameron was recently selected to lead the Wyoming Highway Patrol, a new role that he starts in January 2023.