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Police to beef up patrols on Jonathan Street

March 16, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Hagerstown City Police will add patrols in the Jonathan Street area in the coming months to try to combat crime and violence in an area a drug dealer once called "sweet heaven," Chief Dale J. Jones said.

In January, the department assigned two Neighborhood Policing officers to patrol the area fulltime. Jones said last week he intends to increase regular patrols as well.

City leaders and police officials will meet with area residents tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Bethel Gardens Community Center on Henry Avenue to discuss the problems.

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Jones said he will commit two more uniformed officers to the area next month. He said staffing constraints prevent him from keeping those officers there past summer.

Police also will conduct drug sweeps in the neighborhood, which stretches along Jonathan Street from Washington Street into Pennsylvania Avenue and several blocks on either side.

Jones said the two officers working the area have made 50 arrests in three months. He said the pair has drawn compliments from residents.

Residents say the neighborhood has slowly deteriorated over the last four or five years.

Cathy S. Stoner, manager of the Bethel Gardens Apartments, said she has seen a big change in just three years. Drug dealing is brazen, she said, and the sound of gunfire is now common.

Stoner said drug buyers pull up to a nearby corner and make their purchases. "It's like the drive-through at McDonald's," she said.

Stoner is happy to have the two Neighborhood Policing officers - when they are on duty.

"It makes a difference when they're here," she said. "But they're not on duty 24 hours a day. They need round-the-clock coverage down here."

`Sweet heaven'

Crime in the area has grown more violent and more pervasive for a number of reasons, police officials said.

Jones said mid-size cities like Hagerstown have seen an influx in crime as large cities' crime rates have fallen.

"We're getting a lot more volume. And people are coming from out of town," he said. "It's not just a local problem. It's a national problem."

Cpl. Robert Leatherman Jr. of the Washington County Narcotics Task Force, said the Jonathan Street corridor is one of the most drug-infested areas of the county.

Leatherman said Hagerstown is attractive to out-of-town drug dealers.

"They don't have to worry about other drug dealers pulling a gun on them," he said. "The money is the big thing."

Leatherman said drug dealers can often command three and four times as much for a rock of crack cocaine than in New York, Washington, D.C., or Baltimore.

He said a drug dealer from Port St. Lucie, Fla., told NTF agents about two years that Hagerstown was "sweet heaven."

Leatherman said many residents refuse to see the drug problem, either out of fear or apathy.

Stan Brown Jr., vice president of a group called Brothers United Who Dare to Care Inc., said that's changing.

"A lot of people are fed up with the problem, both young and old alike," he said.

Brown praised the officers' current efforts, but called on city leaders to devote more resources.

"If there's any section of any town where there's a problem - that's where the police need to be," he said.

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