A largely unexplained decision by a Maryland town to suspend its entire police force has left residents shocked, skeptical and on edge.

The small town of Ridgely, located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, announced it was suspending officers of the Ridgely Police Department, leaving other public safety agencies to fill the void. But the town’s residents remain entirely in the dark about why it was being shut down.

“What’s very concerning is that they didn’t communicate with us in an honest and open way,” said Laura Cline, a longtime Ridgely resident. “Treat us with respect. We’re adults — thinking, rational adults who deserve the truth.”

Holly Justice, an esthetician who owns a spa in Ridgely, added: “We were blindsided. It makes you question the integrity of people who are supposed to protect and serve.”

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City sign

The sign outside the town government and police department offices stands in Ridgely, Md., Friday, March 15, 2024. Ridgely officials announced last week that their entire police department had been suspended pending the results of an investigation by state prosecutors.  (AP Photo/Lea Skene)

Last week, officials said on the Ridgely’s website that the town’s three-member commission had “suspended with pay the entirety of the Ridgely Police Department,” and that the Office of State Prosecutor is investigating potential wrongdoing.

“It doesn’t add up,” said Gennie Woo, a business owner in downtown Ridgely since 1983. “Everybody is skeptical about what happened. We just want to know how and why.”

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The department’s website says it employs half a dozen officers to service its population of about 1,600 residents.

Sheriff's vehicle

A Caroline County Sheriff’s Office vehicle is parked outside the town government and police department offices in Ridgely, Maryland, on Friday, March 15, 2024. Ridgely officials announced last week that their entire police department had been suspended pending the results of an investigation by state prosecutors. They made an arrangement with the sheriff’s office to cover calls for service in the meantime.  (AP Photo/Lea Skene)

According to city officials, Ridgely has made arrangements for officers of the nearby Caroline County Sheriff’s Office to respond to emergency calls for now.

Caroline County Sheriff David Baker said Maryland State Police would also pitch in.

Having officers from a neighboring town respond to service calls has some residents worried about slower response times. Some residents have also suggested a reduced law enforcement presence could make them targets for potential criminals.

Buildings, cars

Central Avenue in downtown Ridgely, Maryland, sits empty, Friday, March 15, 2024. Ridgely officials announced last week that their entire police department had been suspended pending the results of an investigation by state prosecutors. (AP Photo/Lea Skene)

Crime in Caroline County, which includes Ridgely, has been notoriously low spanning decades.

According to federal crime data, the county has reported four homicides since 2000.

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Most of the policing services include minor public safety issues such as lost or stolen items. Other services include participating in community events and supporting local businesses. Other posts contain information about lost keys, credit cards, bikes and other items officers had recovered around town.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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